In what can only be described as a win for the drone community in India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has repealed the “UAS Rules” that came into force in March 2021. Based on the “valuable feedback from academia, industry, and other stakeholders,” a new set of draft drone rules are being introduced to regulate drone-related activities in a manner that they do not pose any risk to the safety or security of people and property.
But first, a little background…
India’s first-ever drone regulations came out in 2018 in the form of Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR). These requirements could not be fulfilled because the government’s ambitious online platform for monitoring drone operations, Digital Sky, remained inoperative.
As such, the market for recreational drones could never take off. And it took the commercial drone industry nearly two years to reach a stage where a handful of companies could enjoy exemptions granted by the government and conduct operations “legally.” That was also primarily due to the urgent demands presented by time-sensitive, global issues like the COVID-19 outbreak and the locust infestation of 2020.
Then, on March 12, 2021, the Indian government put into force “UAS Rules 2021” – bypassing all the suggestions from the industry and lobby groups who had been continually engaging with the government since 2018 for much-needed amendments.
These new laws introduced several more layers of operational complexities for all stakeholders of the drone industry. They mandated a multi-level licensing and fee system for virtually every kind of drone-related activity – right from procuring a spare part as small as a screw to actually getting a drone up in the air. While compliance was practically impossible, the penalties for non-compliance did not have any cap – meaning a business could go bankrupt with one citation.
Naturally, the backlash was tremendous, and for a change, vocal. That retaliation has now paid off. The government has introduced new drone laws that strive to achieve a much healthier balance between safety and operability.
India drone rules 2021: new and improved
The complete draft of the new rules can be found here. These regulations apply to all persons owning or possessing or engaged in exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring, or maintaining a drone in India. They will also apply to any drone being operated in and over India, except in the case of drones being used by the naval, military, or air forces.
Here are the highlights:
1. Remote pilot license
A drone pilot license will not be required if you are flying a drone weighing up to 2 kg for non-commercial purposes, i.e., recreation (hobby) only.
For drones weighing more than 2 kg or for those that are being used for commercial purposes, a remote pilot license from an authorized remote pilot training organization will be mandatory. The minimum age to obtain this license would be 18 years. The license will remain valid for a period of 10 years.
2. Certificate of Airworthiness
This document will be mandatory for all drones weighing more than 250 g and less than 500 kg. The onus to get this certificate falls on the manufacturers or importers.
Push for ‘Made in India’
The “Certificate of Airworthiness” will be issued by the Quality Council of India or a certification body authorized by the government. These bodies may promote the use of “Made in India” components and technologies, as well as that of India’s regional navigation satellite system – Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC), in addition to GPS.
3. Mandatory safety features
In the near future, the government will notify safety features to be installed on every drone. These could include:
- ‘No Permission – No Takeoff’ (NPNT) hardware and firmware
- Real-time tracking beacon that communicates the drone’s location, altitude, speed, and UIN
- Geo-fencing capability
If you already own a drone that does not have the required safety features, you will need to get those incorporated within 6 months of the rules coming out.
4. Unique identification number for drones
A drone UIN is mandatory. This UIN will be mapped to the unique serial numbers provided by drone manufacturers. Need to replace the flight controller? Sure, just update the information on the Digital Sky platform.
5. Airspace authorization map and TFRs
Just like the compulsory safety features, this rule is also forward-looking. The plan is to publish an interactive airspace map on the Digital Sky platform within 30 days from today, segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow, and green zones – which would be used to authorize operations. Simultaneously, a machine-readable Application Programming Interface (API) would also be released for app developers. In case of emergencies, temporary flight restrictions will be enforced for a period not exceeding 48 hours at a time.
6. Drone insurance
Third-party insurance will not be needed for nano drones. For all other categories, the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 would apply.
Exemptions for research and development
The Certificate of Airworthiness, UIN, prior airspace permissions, and remote pilot license for drone research will not be required, provided you are a:
- Government research and development entity
- Government educational institution
- Startup recognized by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade
- Drone manufacturer with a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number.
R&D activities are permitted in the green zone and within the premises of the organization.
The government may promote the adoption and use of drones through the creation of a trade body called Drone Promotion Council. This entity will help to develop a business-friendly regulatory regime with automated permissions, establish incubator centers, organize drone technology events and competitions, and foster the involvement of industry experts and academia in policy-making.
The draft drone rules are open for suggestions or objections until August 5, 2021. You can send in your views to [email protected] with the subject line “Suggestions for draft Drone Rules, 2021”.
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