This article is written by Vanya Verma from Alliance University, Bengaluru. This article covers the regulations put forward to regulate drones under the Drone Regulations, 2021.
In a layman’s language, a drone is referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Autonomous Aircraft, and Model Aircraft are the three types of unmanned aircraft. The remotely piloted aircraft consists of remote pilot station(s), the requisite command and control links, and any additional components specified in the type design. Drones are used for a variety of reasons, including package delivery, agricultural (spraying insecticides, etc.), environmental monitoring, aerial photography, and search and rescue missions, among others.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on 14th July released the updated draft Drone Rules, 2021. These Drone Rules 2021 will replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 that was released on 12 March 2021. We will further study the Drone Regulations, 2021.
Applicability of drone regulations
The drone rules apply to:
- All persons in India who own, possess, or are involved in the exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring, or maintaining of a drone; and
- All drones which are currently being operated in or over India.
Except for those sections whose application is clearly stated in these rules, the provisions of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 do not apply to drones and matters connected with or incidental to them.
The provisions of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, apply to drones with a maximum all-up weight of more than 500 kilograms. Drones operated by the Union’s naval, military, or air forces are exempt from these laws.
Classification of drone
Drones shall be classified based upon the maximum all-up weight including payload as under:
(a) Nano drone: less than or equal to 250 grams;
(b) Micro drone: greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kilograms
(c) Small drone: greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms
(d) Medium drone: greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms.
(e) Large drone: greater than 150 kilograms.
Scope for foreign investment in this area requires further liberalisation of the sector.
Certification of drone
No one may operate a drone in India unless it has a certificate of airworthiness or is exempted from the requirement under these Rules.
On an application filed by a manufacturer or importer of that type of drone on the digital sky platform, the Quality Council of India or a certification entity authorised by the Quality Council of India or the Central Government may issue a certificate of airworthiness for a particular drone if it meets the specified certification standards.
The Central Government may set the standards for getting a certificate of airworthiness for drones based on the Quality Council of India’s suggestion. These guidelines may encourage the adoption of Indian-made technology, designs, components, and drones, as well as India’s regional navigation satellite system, Navigation with Indian Constellation (NAVIC).
Procedure for application
Any manufacturer or importer seeking an airworthiness certificate must apply to the Quality Council of India, or any other certification authority authorised by these regulations, using Form D-1 on the digital sky platform, and provide the following information:
- The applicant’s name, address, and GSTIN;
- The prototype drone’s details and required documentation;
- Proof of payment of the prescribed fees; and
- The prototype drone will be physically turned over to the certification entity.
Restriction on imports
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade will regulate the import of drones and drone components.
Acceptance of approvals given by foreign regulators
The Quality Council of India may certify drones based on licences issued by other international aviation regulators for that type of drone, as defined by the Central Government.
No one shall use a drone in any way that endangers the safety and security of any person or property, either directly or indirectly.
Mandatory safety features
The Central Government shall notify the person who owns a drone of the safety features that must be installed on the drone.
All drone owners must implement the aforementioned safety elements within the timeframe provided by the Central Government, which must not be less than six months from the date of notification. Safety features that may be announced in the future include:
- ‘No Permission – No Takeoff’ (NPNT) hardware and firmware;
- Real-time tracking beacon that sends the drone’s location, altitude, speed, and unique identification number; and
- Geo-fencing capability.
Manufacturing, importing, or operating will not require a certificate of airworthiness in case of:
- Prototype drone for research and development;
- Prototype drone for acquiring a certificate of airworthiness; and
- Nano drone.
Registration of drone
Unique identification number
- Unless exempted by these regulations, no person shall fly a drone that does not have a unique identifying number.
- A person can generate a drone’s unique identification number by filling out Form D-2 on the digital sky platform with the necessary information.
- A drone’s unique identification number must be linked to the manufacturer’s unique serial number as well as the unique serial numbers of its flight control module and ground control station.
- No one shall replace a drone’s flight control module or ground control station whose serial number is linked to the drone’s unique identification number without first updating the unique serial number of the new flight control module or ground control station on the digital sky platform within seven days of the replacement date.
Registration of existing drones
A person who owns a drone that was manufactured in India or imported into India on or before December 31, 2021, must generate its unique identification number by filling out Form D-2 on the digital sky platform, provided that the drone has a valid Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN) issued by the digital sky platform on or before the above-mentioned date and the type of drone complies with a certificate of airworthiness issued by the Quality Council of India.
Transfer of drones
A person can transfer a drone to another person by filling out Form D-3 on the digital sky platform with the transferor’s, transferee’s, and drone’s unique identifying number.
After electronic verification of the transferor, transferee, and unique identification number, the digital sky platform will generate a transaction number and enter it into the records.
Deregistration of drones
A person who owns a drone must ask for the deregistration of a drone registered in his or her name by filing an application in Form D-3 on the digital sky platform after determining that the drone is either permanently lost or permanently damaged.
The deregistration will be affected in the records, and the digital sky platform will generate a transaction number.
Within 30 days after the date of notice of these rules, the Central Government may publish on the digital sky platform an airspace map for drone operations that divides India’s whole airspace into red, yellow, and green zones, with a horizontal resolution of at least 10 metres.
The airspace map for drone operations must be programmatically accessible via a machine-readable Application Programming Interface (API) and interactive, so that drone pilots can plot their proposed flight plan and quickly identify the zone(s) in which it falls to determine whether or not they need to submit a prior approval application.
Requirement of prior permission
Without prior permission, no one may fly a drone in a red or yellow zone.
Mandatory pre-flight verification of zonal restrictions
Before beginning a drone operation, a drone pilot must check the digital sky platform for any drone-related notifications or restrictions in the desired region of operation.
Dynamic nature of zoning
The Central Government may alter the status of an area from one zone to another by updating the airspace map on the digital sky platform for drone operations from time to time. Any such change must take effect within seven days of the date of its publication.
Temporary red zone
If there is an urgent need to temporarily prohibit drone flights in a specific area, the concerned State Government, Union Territory Administration, or law enforcement agency may declare a temporary red zone over that area, notifying it through the digital sky platform and highlighting it on the airspace map, for a period of not more than 48 hours at a time.
An officer with the rank of Superintendent of Police or its equivalent must declare the temporary red zone. The officer shall endeavour to make the temporary red zone’s size reasonable and not excessive.
The digital sky platform shall attempt to notify holders of unique identification numbers within a five-kilometre radius of the temporary red zone of such a restriction via electronic means, provided that failure to receive such information does not relieve a drone pilot of the responsibility to verify the zonal restrictions on the digital sky platform before flying.
Access to data
Direct access to the data available on the digital sky platform will be provided to all state governments, union territory administrations, and law enforcement agencies.
Remote pilot license
A drone may only be operated by a natural person who has a valid remote pilot licence registered on the digital sky platform.
Remote pilot licences must state the type of drone for which the natural person has completed the required training. If the aforementioned natural person has completed the specified training for automatic or autonomous drone operations, the remote pilot licence must state such.
The following natural persons are eligible for a remote pilot licence:
- They must be at least eighteen years of age and not more than sixty-five years old;
- They must have passed a recognised Board’s class tenth or equivalent examination;
- They must have completed the training prescribed by the Director-General for the applicable class of remote pilot licence from an authorised remote pilot training facility.
Procedure for obtaining a remote pilot licence
- Within seven days of passing the stipulated competency exam performed by an authorised remote pilot training company, the natural person shall be awarded a remote pilot certificate by such authorised remote pilot training organisation via the digital sky platform.
- The authorised remote pilot training organisation must pay the applicable fee for each remote pilot certificate given through the digital sky platform.
- Within fifteen days of the date of issue of the remote pilot certificate by the authorised remote pilot training institution, the Director-General may award the remote pilot licence to any applicant who meets the requirements set down in point (a) of procedure for obtaining a remote pilot license, using the digital sky platform.
- A remote pilot certificate is only valid if it is registered with the digital sky platform.
- A remote pilot licence is valid for ten years unless suspended or cancelled, and may be renewed by any authorised remote pilot training organisation for the period specified therein, subject to a maximum period of ten years. Provided, however, that the holder of the remote pilot licence attends such refresher courses as the Director-General may specify regularly on the digital sky platform.
A person who does not need a remote pilot licence if:
- Operating a nano drone or
- Operating a micro drone for non-commercial activities.
Remote pilot training organisation
A person seeking a remote pilot licence must get instruction from an authorised remote pilot training organisation.
The following eligibility criteria must be met before a remote pilot training organisation can be approved:
- The remote pilot training organisation operates from a plot of land with minimum dimensions of 50 metres by 50 metres;
- The remote pilot training organisation has an adequate number of classrooms to ensure that no more than 30 students are in a classroom at any given time.
- The remote pilot training organisation has a sufficient number of drones and accompanying equipment in good functioning order to provide proper hands-on practical training to each student.
- The remote pilot training organisation has a sufficient number of teachers with current remote pilot licences who will be in charge of the students’ training.
Procedure for obtaining authorisation
- Any person who meets the eligibility criteria in sub-rule (2) and wishes to create a remote pilot training organisation must submit an application in Form D-6 on the digital sky platform, along with the required fee, to the Director-General.
- Within sixty days of the date of the application, the Director-General may award the authorisation for the remote pilot training organisation to any applicant who meets the conditions set down in point (a) of procedure for obtaining authorisation.
Unless suspended or cancelled, an authorization to establish a remote pilot training organisation is valid for 10 years and may be renewed for the duration stipulated therein, up to a maximum of ten years at a time.
- The approved remote pilot training organisation must ensure strict adherence to the Director General’s standards for training, competency testing, and the issuance of remote pilot certificates on the digital sky platform.
- The training requirements must be tailored to a specific drone class or classes.
- There shall be prescribed training requirements for automatic and autonomous drone operations.
Research and development
For research and development purposes, the following people do not need a certificate of airworthiness, a unique identifying number, previous approval, or a remote pilot licence:
- Research and development entities under the administrative control of, or recognised by, the Central Government, State Governments, or Union Territory Administrations;
- Educational institutions under the administrative control of, or recognised by, the Central Government, State Governments, or Union Territory Administrations
- Startups recognised by the Department of Industrial Promotion and Internal Trade;
- Any drone maker with a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number provided that such drone operations occur inside a green zone and on the premises of the person doing the research and development; or in an open area within a green zone under such person’s supervision.
Drone Traffic Management
- The Central Government may publish the policy framework for the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) System on the digital sky platform within sixty days of the date of notification of these rules.
- Such a policy structure must be following these rules and must make automatic approvals as required by these rules possible.
- The policy framework must include a framework for building drone corridors for drones’ secure transport of products.
- The said policy framework must specify the duties, authorities, and responsibilities of state governments and union territory administrations.
The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and the rules promulgated thereunder apply mutatis mutandis to drone third-party insurance and compensation in the event of death or property damage caused by a drone. A nano drone may operate without third-party insurance.
Promotion of drone
- The Central Government may establish a Drone Promotion Council to encourage the use and use of drones.
- The drone promotion council shall facilitate the following:
- The development of a business-friendly regulatory regime, including automated permissions;
- The establishment of incubators and other facilities for the development of drone technologies;
- The participation of industry experts and academic institutions in policy advice; and
- The organisation of competitive events involving drones and counter-drone technology.
- The Central Government may evaluate these rules based on economic impact which shall be documented in a six-monthly report that will list the achievements of the Indian drone sector and the measures taken to further the ease of doing business in the sector.
Issuing a certificate of airworthiness
Issuance or transfer of unique identification number
Listing or renewal of remote pilot licence
Authorisation or renewal of authorisation of remote pilot training organisation
Note: Market-linked fees may be charged by authorities such as the Quality Council of India, certification entities, and authorised remote pilot training organisations, among others.
If necessary, the Central Government may give general or particular directions relating to drones that are not in conflict with the Aircraft Act of 1934 or these rules.
General power to exempt
The Central Government may exclude any person or class of individuals from the application of these regulations, in whole or in part, by issuing a general or special order in writing, subject to the circumstances specified in that order.
Prosecution for offences
A person who violates or fails to comply with these regulations will be punished by the Court under subsection (2) of Section 10 of the Aircraft Act, 1934, and such violations or non-compliance will be compounded under Section 12A of the Aircraft Act, 1934.
The provisions of these rules shall be in addition to, not in lieu of, the provisions of any other law in force at the time.
After giving a person an opportunity to be heard, if the Director-General or an officer authorised by the Central Government, State Government, or Union Territory Administration is satisfied that a person has contravened or failed to comply with the provisions of these rules, he may levy a penalty not exceeding rupees one lakh as per the provisions of Section 10A of the Aircraft Act, 1934.
Cancellation or suspension
After giving a person an opportunity to be heard, if the Director-General or an officer authorised by the Central Government, State Government, or Union Territory Administration is satisfied that a person has contravened or failed to comply with the provisions of these rules, he may cancel or suspend any licence, certificate, authorisation, or approval granted under these rules.
Nothing in these rules limits or restricts the Central Government’s authority to issue orders in the interest of public safety or the safe functioning of all manned and unmanned aircraft.
The need to revise the UAS Regulations 2021, which were released just four months ago after extensive stakeholder discussions, may reflect the drone community’s dissatisfaction with existing rules, which threatened to drown drones in a sinker of over-regulation
The government’s aggressive strategy to promote the usage of drones and emphasis on the development of counter-drone technologies to meet the threat presented by rogue drones is demonstrated by the decision to liberalise the drone policy even after the recent drone attacks in Jammu.
The current regulation is a positive step forward that will help India attract more investments in drone technology.
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