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Key Takeaways

  • The new Rules will set a regulatory framework which is aimed at encouraging the use of drones for various commercial and security purposes.
  • The new Rules have abolished many approval certificates and made the process easier.
  • As the Unmanned Aircraft System offered immense opportunities for economic growth and employment generation, the new Rules will regulate the drone in such a manner such they do not pose any risk to the safety or security of people and their assets.
  • It has laid down the qualifications, the applicability and other Rules that need to be followed.

Introduction

An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is an aircraft operating or designed for autonomous operation without any human pilot or passengers on board. These include the unmanned aircraft vehicles which are commonly called as “drones”. Drones range in various sizes, ranging from very small to those that can carry multiple kilograms of payload.

Just like the other inventions of technology, the use of drones largely depends on the intentions of the human flying it. While drone were made for benefitting humanity, they can be potentially used for illegal or destructive activities by miscreants. They can be used for intentionally causing harm to others, just like the recent drone attack on the Indian Air Force Station in Jammu. It thus became very important to have a check on their usage and regulate their ownership. Hence the Government of India laid out guidelines under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, relating to the use of drones.

Previous Provisions

1. Civil Aviation Requires (CAR) on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS)

The Civil Aviation Requires was a set of Rules and regulations which was issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The CAR on RPAS became effective from 1st December, 2018 and had regulated the space since then and brought several changes for the industry.

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation had worked for several years to establish a world leading to drone ecosystem. It was necessary to develop global standard drone regulations that would suffice the extra precautions needed for India’s security, and permit the commercial application of various drone technologies. The preparation of these drone regulations through a Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) took multiple years because of the Rules it laid out and the security standards it met.

2. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Rules 2021

A draft of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules was released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in June 2020. After seeking comments, making changes and holding consultations with stakeholders for almost 10 months, the Government finally gave its approval and it came into effect on 15th March, 2021. These new Rules, replaced the existing Civil Aviation Requires (CAR) on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).This brought many changes in the previous Rules. It highlighted some of the important regulations which were not discussed in the previous guidelines. It lay the terms of drone usage by individuals and businesses as well as for the terms of research, testing, production and import of these vehicles. This also paved the way for setting up drone ports, this rule intended to provide an airport-like setup for arrival, departure and maintenance of all the drones.

3. Draft Drone Rules 2021

These Rules are set to repeal the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 which had come into force this year in March. The new Rules will set a regulatory framework which is aimed at encouraging the use of drones for various commercial and security purposes and it also outlines the ‘dos and don’ts’ for users. This came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a meeting with the top ministers to discuss the formulation of a policy for the traffic management of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones. The new draft will have significant changes in it in comparison to the previous rule book. As per the Union Civil Aviation Ministry, the National Drone Policy will make it remarkably easier for individual people and companies to own and operate drones.

Why did this Act come into being?

The Centre in its preliminary statements for the Draft Rules stated that Unmanned Aircraft System (drones) offered immense opportunities for economic growth and employment generation. Therefore it is required to regulate the drone related activities in such a manner such they do not pose any risk to the safety or security of people and their assets. This matter was taken up after the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Rules received valuable feedbacks from various academia, industry and other stakeholders. Thus the Central Government proposed to make certain Rules in supersession of the UAS Rules, 2021.This was done in exercise of the powers conferred by Sections 5, Sub-section (2) of Section 10 and Sections 10A, 10B and 12A of the Aircraft Act, 1934. As the existing regulation, which was notified in March 2021, was seen to have a labyrinthine approval process, it became extremely essential for a new rule to be set up.

Section 5 of the Aircraft Act states the power of Central Government to make Rules.

Section 10 of the Aircraft Act gives the penalty for act in contravention of rule made under this Act.

Section 12 of the Aircraft Act mentions about the penalty, for abetment of offences and attempted offences, under this Act.

Key features

The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules and the new Draft Drone Rules have certain key highlight changes in them.

1. Key Highlights of the UAS Rules, 2021

  • UAS further categorised as remotely piloted aircraft, model remotely piloted aircraft and autonomous unmanned aircraft system.
  • Depending upon their weight, UAS classified the unmanned aircraft as nano, micro, small, medium and large including its pay load ranging from <250gram to 150 kilograms.
  • It made mandatory for the individuals and companies to obtain approval from the DGCA for importing, manufacturing, trading, owing and operating drones.
  • Except for the nano category, the UAS adopted the No Permission- No Take-off (NPNT) policy.
  • Micro and small UAS were not permitted to fly above 60m and 120 m, respectively.
  • Except nano category, all other UAS must be equipped with flashing anti-collision strobe lights, flight data logging capability, secondary surveillance radar transponder, real-time tracking system and 360 degree collision avoidance system, among others.
  • All UAS including nano category, must be equipped with Global Navigation Satellite System, Autonomous Flight Termination System or Return to Home option, geo-fencing capability and flight controller, among others.
  • UAS prohibited from flying in strategic and sensitive location, which included airports, defence airports, border areas, military installations/facilities and areas earmarked as strategic locations/vital installations by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Delivery of goods was only permitted to medium and large UAS.
  • Research and development (R&D) organisations, including start-ups, authorised UAS manufacturer, any accredited recognised institution of higher education located in India, are permitted to carry out R&D of UAS only after obtaining authorisation from the DGCA.
  • Penalties were set up, ranging from Rupees ten thousand to one lakh for individuals, and for organisations, a 200, 300 and 400% of the amount specified for individuals, based upon the size of the organisation.

2. Key highlights of Drone Draft Rules, 2021

  • The Union Civil Aviation Ministry stated that the draft of the national drone policy has streamlined a labyrinthine certification process for manufacturers, importers and users, in a move that aims to boost future tech.
  • Several approvals such as unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, and student remote pilot licence have been abolished & processes made easier.
  • The number of forms has been reduced from 25 to 5.
  • Increased coverage of drones from 300 kg to 500 kg.
  • The Draft Rules also propose significant reduction in fees to nominal levels and not linking the fee with the size of the drone.
  • Reduction in yellow zone from 45 km to 12 km from the airport area.
  • For flying in green zones no flight permission required up to the height of 400 ft in green zones.
  • On its attempt to make Rules easier, the Draft Rules also state that no pilot licence will be required for micro drones for the purpose of non-commercial use, nano drones and for research and development (R&D) organisations.
  • There won’t be a ban on the use of drones by foreign-owned companies registered in India and no security clearance will be required before any registration or licence is issued.
  • The Government is also planning to open what is known as the Digital Sky Platform, which the manufacturers can use for certification process, and from where interactive airspace maps with green, yellow, and red zones can be accessed. This platform, however, will be under India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
  • In red zones, drone operations will be permitted only under exceptional circumstances by the Central Government.
  • The airspace map for the drone operations will be designed in such a way that it can be programmatically accessible through a machine readable Application Programming Interface (API) and also be interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone(s) within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval.

Uses

Drones have a variety of uses. Starting from watering and sowing of seeds, thereby, cultivating vast agricultural lands, to soil mapping, photography, delivering small payloads, and in sectors like healthcare, mining, construction, conservation the opportunity is huge. But after the attack on Jammu Air base, the utility of drones is being more focused on national security. It will allow security personnel to reduce and deter threats, survey larger areas in comparatively less time, and respond more effectively to intruders. The added situational awareness that these drones provide to security forces will help them minimize the risk to personnel, and thermal tracking software can be used to ensure intruders are apprehended.

Classification

As per the new Rules, the drones are being classified into five types based on their weight. They are:

(a) Drones less than or equal to 250 gram fall- Nano
(b) Drones greater than 250 gram and less than or equal to 2 kilogram- Micro
(c) Drones greater than 2 kilogram and less than or equal to 25 kilogram- Small
(d) Drones greater than 25 kilogram and less than or equal to 150 kilogram- Medium
(e) Drones greater than 150 kilogram- Large

Applicability of drone Rules

The new drone Rules will be applicable to

(a) Every person who owns or posses or is engaged in any business like export, import, manufacture, trade, maintenance, lease or transfer done in India.
(b) To all the other drones that are being used and operated at present in and all over India.

Qualification for using a drone

All the remote operators of drone must possess pilot licence for using it. The required qualification for the same are:

(a) They must be between the age group of eighteen years and not more than sixty five years.
(b) They must have a class 10th pass certificate or its equivalent examination from any recognised board.
(c) They must have completed their training of remote pilot licence as prescribed by the Director General for the applicable class from an authorised remote pilot training organisation.

Conclusion

This policy aims to enable more types of unmanned aircraft in operational scenarios, increasing the ease of compliance for the unmanned aviation industry, and ensuring the safety and security. This decision of the ministry of civil aviation’s to liberalise the drone policy after the recent drone incidents in Jammu reflects the Government’s bold approach in promoting the usage of the drone and focusing on the development of counter-drone technology to address the threat posed by rogue drones. For the better outcome and implementation of the Rules, the Government has also invited objections and suggestions from the public till 5th August, 2021.


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