With a view to further liberalizing the regulatory framework and also to ensure ease of using drones, the Drone Rules, 2021 acknowledged the versatility of drones and Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles ( UAVs). This was a much needed push required to bring the Indian drone industry to new heights. The aim of the Drone Rules, 2021 is to create a digital sky platform which serves as a business-friendly online system for procuring various approvals with minimal human interface and encourages most permissions to be self-registered.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation ( MoCA) published Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Rules in March 2021 (“Earlier Rules”) which were discouraged by start-ups, end-users and other stakeholders as being restrictive in nature as they involved considerable paperwork, required permissions for every drone flight and very few “free to fly” green zones. Based on the considerable feedback, Government of India decided to repeal the UAS rules 2021. These rules were replaced by liberalized, Drone Rules, 2021 , (“New Rules”).
A drone has been termed as an unmanned aircraft system (“drone”). The New Rules defines, an unmanned aircraft system as “an aircraft that can operate autonomously or can be operated remotely through a pilot on board.”
- The New Rules shall apply to the following:
- All persons owning or possessing or engaged in exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining a drone in India; and
- All unmanned aircraft system that are being registered in India, and
- All unmanned aircraft system that are being operated for the time being, in or over India.
- Drone shall conform to a type certificate for operations, issued by the Central Government upon recommendation of the Quality Council of India (“QCI”). There will be specified standards for obtaining a type certificate for drones which will be aligned to promoting a) made-in-India technologies, components and unmanned aircraft systems, b) Indian regional navigation satellite system, namely Navigation with Indian Constellation
- The Import of drones and drone components shall be regulated by the Director General of Foreign Trade (‘DGFT’) or any authority authorized by the Central Government. The import of UAS is limited and requires a prior clearance of the DGCA and an import licence from DGFT.
- The Mandatory safety features such as (a) “No Permission- No Take-off” (NPNT) hardware and firmware, (b) real-time tracking beacon which communicates the unmanned aircraft system’s location, altitude, speed and unique identification number; and (c) geo-fencing capability, for which a six-month lead time from the date of publication of notification as specified by Central Government will be provided for compliance.
- No type certificate is required for :
- Manufacturing or importing an unmanned aircraft system
- For operating, (i) a model remotely piloted aircraft system, (ii) a nano unmanned aircraft system
- The Government will notify an interactive map by September 25, 2021 which is proposed to be accessible through a machine-readable API. The map will divide the entire Indian airspace into three zones.
Remote Pilot Licence
- The holder of remote pilot licences (“RPL”) on digital sky platform shall operate an unmanned aircraft system
- The RPL shall specifically mention the category, sub-category and classification of the unmanned aircraft system or a combination of these, for which it is issued.
- An individual is eligible if, a) 18-65 years of age, b) passed 10th/equivalent examination from a recognized board, c) Completed prescribed training from an authorised remote pilot training organization (“RPTO”).
- No RPL shall be required for a person – (a) operating a nano unmanned aircraft system; and (b) operating a micro unmanned aircraft system for non-commercial purposes.
Research , Development and Testing
- The following persons shall not require a certificate of airworthiness, UIN, prior permission and remote pilot licence for operating unmanned aircraft systems for research, development and testing purposes-
a. Research and Development entities under the administrative control of, or recognized by the Central Government, State Governments or Union Territory Administrations;
b. Educational institutions under the administrative control of, or recognized by the Central Government, State Governments or Union Territory Administrations
c. Start-ups recognized by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade; and
d. Any unmanned aircraft system manufacturer having a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number
- Further such unmanned aircraft system operations take place in green zone and within the premises/open area in a green zone where such research, testing and development is carried out under such person’s control
Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management
- The Central Government, within 60 days of the date of notification of such rules, shall publish the policy framework in respect of Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (“UTM”) System on the platform
- The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and rules made there under shall apply, mutatis mutandis, to third party insurance of unmanned aircraft system and compensation in case of damage to life and/or property caused by such an unmanned aircraft system.
- The third-party insurance shall not apply to a nano unmanned aircraft system.
Fees, Penalty and Prosecution
- The fee in the range of INR 100 to 1000 shall be payable for services rendered by the Central Government as specified in the rules.
- Prosecution for offences – A person who has contravened or failed to comply with these rules shall be punishable by the Court in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 10 of the Aircraft Act, 1934 and such contraventions or non-compliance shall be compoundable in accordance with the provisions of Section 12A of the Aircraft Act, 1934. Such persons, after giving an opportunity of being heard is satisfied upon such contravention, a penalty not exceeding 1 lakh shall be levied under Section 10A of the Aircraft Act, 1934.
India has overhauled the civil drone regime through the Drone Rules, 2021.
The liberalized drone regime has permitted foreign-owned and controlled Indian companies (“FOCC”) to manufacture and operate drone operations in India as well as establish remote pilot training organizations. This shall bring in foreign investment in the country along-with expertise of technologically advanced countries.
The drawbacks of the regime includes issues in terms of no proper guidelines on carriage of payload. This would give rise to issues for commercial use for deliveries and logistics. Hence, there is lack of regulation for commercial/autonomous operations since the licence requirement of pilot is not applicable to them. There is no regulatory framework provided for Beyond Visual Line Of Sight ( “BVLOS”) operation which is a problem for industry players to manifest their future business plans. Further, the Government has enabled the provision of drone taxi but it requires a stringent implementation mechanism. Also, the New Rules state the defined timeline for application of certificate and licence, but the functioning of platform shall estimate the result of the procedure.
On a positive growth-centered aspect, the rules shall transform the drone sector in the coming years with major effects on the economic growth of the country. It shall aid other sectors through additional data access, cheaper logistics, new technology, intellectual property and other advantagous technical assistance. Hence, an exhaustive mechanism shall ensure the safety and security standards of drone operations in the country.