Commercial Drones PilotsNew drone rules greeted with cautious optimism

September 18, 2021by helo-10

New rules have kicked in and brought cheer to drone users and companies offering compliance services.

Last month, the central government notified The Drone Rules of 2021, liberalising the ownership and use of drones or Unmanned Automated Vehicles (UAV) in India. They reduce entry barriers by a great deal.

Ruchika Agarwal, co-founder of business management consultancy, Mind Sync, explains the shift. “The number of registrations, licences and compliances have come down from 25 to five, and fees from 72 to four. The fee for a remote pilot licence is down from Rs 3,000 to Rs 100 for all categories of drones.”

As a result, her consultancy has received a dozen enquiries on drone-related compliance from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Pune lately. “These came mostly from photographers and food startups. One wants to explore the possibility of delivering lunch from home to office,” she shares. Ashwath Salunke can attest to the increase in interest. His company in Malleswaram, Fly India, customises drones for college projects and also repairs the devices.

“We have received queries from hobbyists, commercial photographers, and businesses who want to fly drones over solar panels in remote areas or above windmills to detect breakdowns,” he says. Likewise, wedding photographer Abhiram Rajan has got calls from construction companies that wanted aerial shots of their sites.

Ashwath Salunke and his son Suhas
customise and service drones in Malleswaram. 

Vlogger Nivedith G is glad he can finally capture a bird’s eye view of Chinnaswamy Stadium, Lalbagh, and Cubbon Park without running around for approvals. “The new policy lets you fly the drones in the green zone (airspace from the ground up till 400 ft high) freely,” he explains.

The previous rules were indeed “draconian” and curtailed creativity and tech innovation, says Ashwath. “After the drone attack in Jammu in July, many people hid their drones and profile photos featuring drones, afraid that the authorities might question them. Air force officials showed up at my office too, asking me what my business was about,” he recalls.

A drone hub

The new policy wants to leverage India’s strengths in innovation and tech and Bengaluru has a critical role to play. The city is a hub of startups and aerospace engineering, after all, says Nagendran Kandasamy, founder and CEO of city-based Throttle Aerospace.

In a pilot done in collaboration with e-commerce startup Udaan last month, his company delivered medicines to Gauribidanur on the outskirts of Bengaluru through drones.

“Our drone dropped the medicines within eight minutes while the ambulance covered the same distance in 25 minutes. The payload was two kilos.” The tests were conducted for 100 hours and in different weather conditions.

Since the news broke, at least five medical startups have approached them.

Throttle, which ultimately aims to make drone taxis for passenger commutes, is one of the 20 startups selected by the ministry of civil aviation to conduct long-range or Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights. Also in the fray are food and grocery delivery giants. While Swiggy and Zomato are piloting in the north, Dunzo will conduct drone trials outside Bengaluru, reports suggest.

Privacy, profit concerns

People Metrolife spoke to were relieved to have a friendly drone policy but “not fully”. Whether content creators will have an easy time now rests on the public and local authorities, says Nivedith. “Until the public accepts that not all drone pilots are trying to invade their privacy or harm them, they will continue to be suspicious. They may call up the local police and ask us to withdraw, even if it is a green zone,” he says.

Rajan of Shutterbug Film Company agrees: “Only when the public is aware of the new policy and feels confident will more individuals and businesses come forward to use drones. Whether the policy will work in favour of small businesses or not, we will have a better picture in five or six months.”

Valid concerns

According to Dhruv Somayajula, research fellow at the Centre for Applied Law and Technology Research, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in Delhi, these concerns aren’t misplaced. “The previous drone policy had a few tertiary clauses to address data privacy but the new rules have completely done away with them. To liberalise the drone market without having a data protection law in place is problematic,” he believes.

The new policy overlooks consent and fundamental rights. He explains, “While covering a wedding reception, you may fly a drone over an apartment and inadvertently capture people’s day-to-day life. This isn’t alarming because there is a presumption that ordinary people can’t misuse the information.”

Arpit Sharma, an aerial mobility expert, believes privacy is a bigger concern when it comes to smaller drones, but not so much with larger unmanned aircraft. He also doubts if the daily delivery of small packages, as in the case of food, will be profitable in the long run.

New rules at a glance

Minimum age to apply for drone licence is 18.

No security clearance, no pilot licence required to operate nano drones (250 gm and less), non-commercial mini drones (250 gm to 2 kg), and drones for R&D.

No permission required to fly in green zone (till 400 feet), or 12 km outside an airport.

Coverage of drones has increased from 300 kg to 500 kg, including drone taxis.

Number of forms reduced from 25 to 5 and types of fees from 72 to 4.

Penalty for non-compliance is Rs 1 lakh.

Allows for the promotion of Make-in-India drone tech and regulation of the import.

All drones need to register at

Better privacy in EU

“The EU General Data Protection Regulation requires data processors to undertake a personal data protection impact assessment before using new technologies,” says Dhruv Somayajula, who researches the intersection of technology and law. They will have to specify what part of the data collected they will use.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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