The Indian Government has announced a liberalised set of regulations, the Drone Rules 2021, that are intended to open up the skies and encourage development of the sector.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Union Minister for Civil Aviation has announced that the government aims to make India a global drone hub by 2030. The industry is projected to generate income as well as job opportunities in verticals as diverse as transport, logistics, defence, mining and infrastructure, among others. Drones are expected to be a popular option because they contribute to a low carbon footprint, as they can integrate electric power into their systems.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) published the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules in March 2021, but stakeholders, academia and start-ups felt the proposed regulations were restrictive in nature. The general consensus was that they created considerable paperwork, required permission for every drone flight and very few ‘free to fly’ green zones were available. Appropriately, the government has withdrawn the UAS Rules, 2021 and replaced them with the liberalised Drone Rules, 2021.
In the revised rules, the Digital Sky platform will be developed as a user-friendly single-window system. Digital Sky is India’s platform for regulating drones and is conceptualised with a minimal human interface.
An interactive airspace map with green, yellow and red zones will be displayed on the digital sky platform. These zones will denote where drone operators can fly their aircraft systems. No permission is required for operating drones in green zones. The green zone refers to the airspace up to a vertical distance of 400 feet or 120 metre that has not been designated as a red zone or yellow zone in the airspace map; and the airspace up to a vertical distance of 200 feet or 60 metre above the area located between a lateral distance of 8 and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport.
The yellow zone has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter.
Many procedures have been streamlined. The number of forms has been reduced from 25 to five, as well the types of fees reduced from 72 to four. Further, the quantum of fee has been reduced to nominal levels and delinked with size of drone. For instance, the fee for a remote pilot licence fee has been reduced from Rs 3,000 (for large drone) to Rs 100 for all categories of drones, and is valid for 10 years.
The security clearance before registration or licence issuance has been removed. Approvals of various kinds have been abolished. For instance, the unique authorisation number as well as the unique prototype identification number have been eliminated. Micro drones used for non-commercial use and nano drones don’t require a remote pilot licence.
The weight limit for drones covered by these rules has increased from 300kg to 500kg. This will include heavy payload-carrying drones and drone taxis.
To develop drones into a full-fledged industry, drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries. Safety and security features such as ‘No permission – no takeoff’ (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon and geo-fencing will be notified in future.
In an effort to encourage start-ups, a Drone Promotion Council will be set up by Government. This is to open out opportunities for the academia, start-ups and other stakeholders in the drone sector. The aim is to foster a growth-oriented regulatory regime.
To digress, the drone policy could well boost air taxis. Unlike fixed flight schedules, air taxis can fly people to and fro to designated places. There has been some development in this direction. The first small aircraft taxi service began in Haryana earlier in the year. The flight will operate from Chandigarh to Hisar. It has been developed under the UDAN scheme of the Government, whose aim is to bring air connectivity between metros and tier cities. The market may be nascent but it could become a choice for the affluent upwardly mobile or the travel bound. Cost, however, may be a constraint. Some loud thinking suggests that the flying cars industry could take off in a big way with support from angel investors and venture capitalists.
Domestic drone manufacturing itself can become a means of livelihood and a move towards the Make in India vision. But this requires the know-how of drone technology, sensors and imaging systems and payload mechanisms.
Individuals can develop into drone specialists or entrepreneurs, as the Indian Institute of Drones is training individuals for this sector. Drone operations and management, field experience and online courses complete with unmanned systems technology are some of its highlights. Headquartered in Delhi, the Institute has spread its wings to many parts of the country through the franchise route.
Tech professionals can pursue artificial intelligence (AI)-powered drones to capture and process data in search and rescue operations, apart from leveraging it in mining and mega-scale infrastructure projects. Drone data analytics companies can morph into intelligent data resources.
All along, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles were thought of as a means of fulfilling military purposes. The skies are now expected to open up for civilians too. Hopefully the community of drone enthusiasts will grow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the new drone rules will usher in a landmark moment for the sector in India.
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