India's drone policy set to get liberal, undaunted by Jammu attack

India has been opening up more and more to the operation of drones in recent times, though it had been traditionally circumspect

India's drone policy set to get liberal, undaunted by Jammu attack
Drones may soon become ubiquitous in India. Image courtesy: Unsplash/Mitch Nielsen

"Drones are bringing the next big tech revolution around the globe... It is upon us to ride on the new wave..." said Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia after the government released the Draft Drone Rules 2021, which seek to significantly liberalise India's drone policy.

Among other facilities, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has done away with the need for approvals, brought heavier drones under its ambit, made drone operations in green zones and around airports easier, smoothened the process for registration and transfer of drones, given a stimulus to drone taxis and drone corridors, made the realm of drones more business-friendly and kept human interface at a minimal level.  

The new policy proposes to replace the UAS Rules 2021 that were released on March 12, 2021. Scindia said that the new drone rules would provide a "major fillip to the drone industry". The deadline for receiving public comments is August 5. 

India has been opening up more and more to the operation of drones in recent times, though it had been traditionally circumspect about allowing drones in a big way considering the distinct possibility of drones being used as weapons. 

However, in this age of Covid-19 when human-to-human contact is sought to be kept at a bare minimum, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have assumed great importance. In a sense, the exigency brought about by the pandemic has demonstrated to the Indian authorities that drones would be the go-to mechanism for service delivery under the changed circumstances. 

In the past few months, numerous significant drone approvals have been granted. Accordingly, conditional exemption from UAS Rules 2021 was provided to the Meghalaya government for conducting Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivering essential healthcare items. Conditional exemption was also granted for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) usage to Kochi Metro Rail Limited for the Integrated Urban Regeneration and Water Transport System Project (IURWTS). A conditional exemption was provided to the housing and urban affairs ministry and National Rice Research Institute (NRRI) as well for drone operations. The West Central Railway, Itarsi received a conditional exemption for assessment of train accident sites using drones. There are similar other examples. 

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"The Ministry of Civil Aviation’s decision to liberalise the drone policy even after the recent drone incidents in Jammu showcases the government’s bold approach to promote the use of the drone and focus on the development of counter-drone technology to address the threat posed by rogue drones. We appreciate the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s initiative of liberalising the drone industry and will continue to extend our support towards making India a global drone hub,” said Smit Shah, Director, Drone Federation of India. The Indian Air Force (IAF) station had come under attack by drones last month, and low-flying drones were suspected to have dropped explosives.

Here are the salient features of the new policy:

1. Approvals have been abolished. These deal with approvals for a unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformation, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permits, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation and so on. 

2. No security clearance is required before any registration or licence issuance.

3. Number of forms reduced from 25 to 6.

4. Fee reduced to nominal levels. No linkage with the size of the drone.  

Source: Unsplash/Gautier Salles

5. Safety features like ‘No permission No Takeoff (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing and so on to be notified in the future. A six-month lead time will be provided for compliance. 

6. The Digital Sky Platform shall be developed as a business-friendly single-window online system.   

7. There will be a minimal human interface on the Digital Sky Platform and most permissions will be self-generated.   

8. Interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the Digital Sky Platform.  

9. Yellow zone reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter. 

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10. No flight permission is required up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 km from the airport perimeter. 

11. No pilot licence is required for micro drones (for non-commercial use), nano drones and for R&D organisations. 

12. No restriction on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India.

13. Import of drones and drone components to be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).   

14. No requirement of a certificate of airworthiness, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot licence for R&D entities.   

15. Coverage of drones under Drone Rules 2021 increased from 300 kg to 500 kg. This will cover drone taxis also. 

16. All drone training and testing to be carried out by an authorised drone school. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) shall prescribe training requirements, oversee drone schools and provide pilot licences online. 

Source: Unsplash/Aaron Burden

17. Issuance of certificate of airworthiness delegated to Quality Council of India (QCI) and certification entities authorised by it.

18. A manufacturer may generate his drone’s unique identification number on the Digital Sky Platform through the self-certification route. 

19. Easier process prescribed for transfer and deregistration of drones. 

20. Standard operating procedures (SOP) and training procedure manuals (TPM) will be prescribed by the DGCA on the Digital Sky Platform for self-monitoring by users. No approvals are required unless there is a significant departure from the prescribed procedures.

21. Maximum penalty under Drone Rules 2021 reduced to Rs 1 lakh. This shall, however, not apply to penalties in respect of violation of other laws. 

22. Drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries.  

23. Drone promotion council to be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime.

(Cover Image courtesy Unsplash/Mitch Nielsen)