By Amol Pushp
Published on: September 15, 2021 at 13:29 IST
A Drone in aviation and in space terms refers to an un-piloted aircraft or spacecraft also known as “Unmanned Aircraft system,[i]” or UAV. It can operate autonomously or can be operated remotely without a pilot on board[ii]. Drones comes in various sizes and can be used vote for defence and civil (recreational or commercial) purposes. Till the start of 20th century drones were predominantly used for military purposes.
In the recent times, the use of Drones for commercial and civil government applications like scientific, recreational, agricultural, product delivery, aerial photography, infrastructure inspections, drone racing, etc has increased rapidly. Due to its capability of flying at lower altitudes it can undertake activities like data capturing, cargo delivery, discharging of substances, etc.
Drones are important in Indian Sub-continent because of its reach in India’s remote and inaccessible areas.
Why is the new Drone policy introduced?
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) published UAS rules, 2021 in the month of March which was perceived by the different stakeholders (Experts, Start-ups, end users, etc) to be very complex and restrictive in nature, requiring paperwork and numerous permissions, for every drone flight and very few “free to fly” green zones etc.
MoCA invited objections and suggestions from all parties likely to be affected by the Draft and after incorporating the necessary suggestions. Thereafter, based on such suggestions the Government of India, vide notification G.S.R. 489 (E), dated July 15, 2021, proposed the draft of the Drone Rules, 2021[iii] in supersession of the UAS Rules.
The new drone rules are progressive in its vision and attempts to liberalize the Indian Drone laws and are built on the principles of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring. . In addition to that it attempts to significantly transform the Indian landscape for Drones. Let’s take a look at what the new drone regulations in India entail.
What is the Scope of Applicability of Drone Rules?
The drone rules apply to all drones being operated for the time being, in or over India, and All persons owning or possessing or engaged in exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining a drone in India. The drone rules shall not apply to:
- Drones with maximum weight more than 500 kilogram, in which case the provisions of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 shall apply.
- The drones used by the naval, military or air forces of the Union.
How are Drones Classified under it?
Unlike the Previous UAS Rules, drones were categorized based on their method of operation and then further classified based on their size and speed[iv]. The coverage of drones under Drone Rules has been increased from 300kg to 500kg and will cover drone taxis. [v]
Under the new regulation drones in India are classified into:
- Nano drone: Less than or equal to 250 grams;
- Micro drone: Greater than 250 gram and less than or equal to 2 kilograms;
- Small drone: Greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms;
- Medium drone: Greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms; and
- Large drone: Greater than 150 kilograms.
How to get your Drones Certified?
A certificate of airworthiness from the QCI (Quality Council of India) is necessary to operate drones[vi] except under some conditions mentioned in the rules.
Drone certification under the old process which was time consuming and complicated. Under the new rules, Any manufacturer or importer can apply to get a certificate of airworthiness has become way easier. This is made possible through the Digital sky platform which is a single window system wherein most permissions required would be self-generated to limit human intervention. The applicant can seek certification through Form D-1 on the Digital sky platform. The followings steps should be followed[vii]:
- Provide the name, contact details, and GSTIN on the D-1 form
- Details and supporting documents regarding the prototype drone
- Proof of fee payment
- Physically handing over the prototype drone to the certification body.
The certification standards may promote the use of made-in India technologies, designs, components and drones; and India’s regional navigation satellite system named Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC)[viii].
How to Register your Drones?
The procedure of registrations has also been made easier. Earlier before the issuance of a registration or licence, a security clearance was mandatory. The requirement of such clearance is now done away with. According to the new rules, the only thing required to operate drones in India is registration of drones on Digital sky platform and obtain a unique identification number by filling out form D-2.[ix]
Wherein The unique identification number of a drone shall be linked to the unique serial number provided by the manufacturer and the unique serial numbers of its flight control module and ground control station.
For the registration of existing drones that have been manufactured in India or imported into India on or before 31 December 2021[x], it has to:-
Firstly, it has to be enlisted on the drone enlistment portal. Each drone enlisted will receive a DAN (Drone Acknowledgement Number).
Secondly, the drones need to get the certificate of airworthiness issued by the Quality Council of India, by filling the D-2 form.
Transferring of drones[xi] has also been made easier, by just filling out the D-3 form and the transfer shall be affected in the records. The deregistration of drones, if it is permanently lost or damaged, can also be done by filling the D-3 form on the digital sky platform.
How does Airspace and Zoning work?
According to the new drone rules, an interactive airspace map will be released on the Digital Sky platform. The maps will segregate the entire Indian airspace into different zones. i.e. red, yellow, and green zones. Prior permission is needed to fly in the yellow and red zones. The advantage of this is, that the drone operators will now be able to plot their proposed flight plan and identify the areas they need approval to fly in. Additionally, the Government, if need be can update the maps easily to make them red zones and prohibit drone flights.
How to get a Remote Pilot License?
A person is eligible to operate a drone in India only after getting a Remote Pilot License. [xii]Only nano drone or a micro drone for non-commercial purpose can be operated without license. The New drone rules have eliminated the prior need for security clearances from the MHA, student pilot license, and a radio operator’s certificate before getting a remote pilot license. Now the applicant can easily get the license by submitting the Form D-6 on the Digital Sky platform within 15-20 days of completing their drone pilot training.[xiii]
The remote pilot license fee, which was Rs 3,000 for a large size drone, has also been reduced to Rs 100, which is for all categories of drones. The license is valid for 10 years.
What is the policy for Third party Insurance?
The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and rules made thereunder shall be applied mutatis mutandis, to the third-party insurance of drone and compensation in case of damage to life and/or property caused by such a drone.
However, nano drone can operate without any such insurance.
What are the Offences and Penalties in case of non-compliance?
Penalties for Contravention of the rules are enlisted, which are punishable by the Court in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 10 of the Aircraft Act, 1934[xiv]. Maximum penalty for violations reduced to Rs. 1 lakh. Furthermore, the Rules also provide for cancellation or suspension of any licence, certificate, authorisation or approval granted under these Rules by the Director General after due hearing, in case of any contravention or failure in compliance.[xv]
The liberalized drone rules are a welcome change for various stakeholders and will indeed help in expanding the drone infrastructure in India. Individuals as well as organisations will find it easier to manufacture, own or operate drones. The Single window application has made the getting permissions and approvals very efficient.
Thereby, reducing the red tape in regulation. The reduced license fee and ease in the procedure has made flying drones more feasible. This will result in a major boost in innovation and business. But, with this positive change, the fear of data misuse has also arisen. Drones can capture vast amounts of data, this will inevitably include sensitive information, such as the location of an individual, their residence and nature of their large assets etc.
Therefore, the regulatory mechanism has to be put in place to check such misuse in the modern world where data is the most precious asset.
To read the Rules:
[i] Rule 3(i)
[ii] Rule 3(zb)
[iii] Drone Rules, 2021 notified on August 25, 2021
[iv] Kunal Verma and Sai Anukaran, “India: The Drone Rules, 2021: An Unmanned Flight Into Unchartered Territory”, (last visited on September 9,2021)
[vi] Rule 4
[vii] Rule 7
[viii] Rule 6
[ix] Rule 13
[x] Rule 14
[xi] Rule 15
[xii] Rule 25(1)
[xiii] Rule 25(3)
[xiv] Rule 33
[xv] Rule 35