This article has been written by Darian Francis pursuing the Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations and Technology Contracts from LawSikho. This article has been edited by Smriti Katiyar (Associate, Lawsikho).
In March 2021, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) published the UAS Rules, 2021. They were perceived by academia, Startups, 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 were available. Based on the feedback, the Government has decided to repeal the UAS Rules, 2021 and replace the same with the liberalized Drone Rules, 2021. This article will provide the analysis and development of the laws governing Unmanned Aircrafts Systems, specifically on recently notified Rules by the Civil Aviation, on 25 August 2021 i.e., the Drone Rules, 2021.
Development of the unmanned aircrafts systems
The development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles started in the late 16th century, with an unmanned air balloon. But here we are not discussing the air balloon but a lot of advanced technology in drone systems. Any aircraft not having a human as a rider on it and which can be controlled via any radio control device which transmits signals and controls the movement of that device will be called Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles hereby called UAVs. These drones have helped the cinema world and the defence industry of the country. The use of drones has significantly gotten a boost after the end of the cold war. As they can be used in spying, monitoring and taking nature’s true shot, and it also helps in providing services like delivery, etc. Thus, UAVs benefit both the manufacturers and users. The global drone market size is forecast to reach US$ 41.3B by 2026 at 9.4% CAGR.
Why was there a need to formulate Drone Rules ?
In the past two decades, it has been seen that the use of UAVs for commercial purposes, defence and filmmaking has increased. The benefit of it can also lead to some negative outcomes of such technologies which include supplying explosives & weapons from alien territory inside our borders, passing of messages, and blasts by UAVs inside Indian territory to cause harm to the civilians or to any high-profile project. The IAF station in Jammu was bombed twice using drones on 27 June 2021. There have been regular attacks via drones and the supplies are also sent from across the border to rage a terrorist attack in India. Various districts in north India have also banned the sale, possession and use of drones considering the security reasons as being near to borders and by knowing the damage caused by drone’s attacks and spying activities done by them.
Children are also fascinated by using drones as seen by their use in many social and cultural gatherings for capturing photos and videos. It was reported that the drones have caused injury to property and life. Thus, there emerged the need for regulating the Unmanned Aircrafts in India.
Introduction of Drone Rules, 2021
The draft of the drone rules was published and left for suggestions. The Ministry of Civil Aviation notified ‘The Drone Rules, 2021’ on 25th August 2021 and by taking into consideration all the objections and suggestions made thereof. The aforesaid rules have been made in compliance with the provision of Aircraft Act, 1934 (22 of 1934). These rules came as a secession to Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 by rectifying the inconsistencies in the UAV Rules, 2021. The unmanned Aircraft Vehicles and Drones denote similar systems.
Applicability of Rules
These rules will only be applicable on-
- Anyone who owns or possesses or is engaged in leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining an unmanned aircraft system in India;
- Every registered UAV in India;
- Any UAV operated in or over India;
- Every UAV not more than 500 Kilograms;
- Every UAV not belonging or used by any defence forces of India.
Classification of zones for drones operation
- Green Zone – The airspace above the land areas or territorial waters of India i.e., the vertical distance of 400 Feet or 120meterand 200 Feet or 60 metres at the lateral distance of 8 km to 12 from the perimeter of an operational airport.
- Yellow Zone –Prior permission from the concerned air traffic control authority shall be taken to fly in this zone. This includes airspace above the vertical distance as provided in the Green Zone.
- Red Zone – The use of any UAV will be prohibited except permitted only by the central government.
Classification of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
a. Based on Design
- Aeroplane – Any vehicle which has wings and drives support in the atmosphere by engines not having rotors.
- Rotorcraft – Any vehicle having rotors that help them to take off the ground.
- Hybrid UAV – Any vehicle having the specification of both Aeroplane and Rotorcraft.
b. Sub-Categorization of the above Aircrafts
- Remotely piloted aircraft system;
- Model remotely piloted aircraft system;
- Autonomous unmanned aircraft system.
c. Based on Weight
- Nano drone: less than or equal to 250 grams;
- Micro drone: greater than 250 grams 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.
- Large drone: greater than 150 kilograms.
Certification of UAV
Certification is necessary before operating UAV on or above the Indian Territory. This is required to be done to check whether the UAV conforms to a type certificate or is exempted. Any person who intends to obtain a certificate shall make an application in form D-1 on the digital Sky platform along with the prescribed fees which further be examined by the Quality Council of India and the proper test’s report and recommendation will be provided within 60 days from the date of filing application. After proper satisfaction by the report, the Director-General can issue the specific type of certificate for which it has been examined.
Registration of UAV
To operate a UAV, the person shall first register it with the Digital Sky Platform or other he may incur liability and it is to be noted that the UAV conforms to a valid type of certificate. The application can be made in form D-2 along with the specified fees and the unique number along with the type certificate. The digital sky platform after verifying the details will provide the unique identification number to the applicant. This number will then be linked with the number provided by the manufacturer and also of the remote flight control module. It is important to note that the flight control module or remote pilot station of an unmanned aircraft system whose serial number is linked to such UAV unique identification number shall not be replaced without first updating on the Digital Sky Platform before operating the UAV.
Registration for the Existing UAV Rule 16 provides that the person who owns any UAV made in India or imported before 3st December, 2021shall make an application to register and obtain a Unique Identification Number within 7 days from the period of replacement and before operating UAV.
Transfer of UAV
Transfer of UAV can be done in the form of sale, lease, gift or another mode only after filing Form D-3 on the Digital Sky Platform with the requisite details. The director-general shall generate the registration record only by electronic verification of the transferor, transferee and the unique identification number. A person can deregister his UAV if it has been lost or destroyed by form D-3 to the Digital Sky Platform which maintains data of the same.
Important rules relating to UAVs use
The central government will be making further steps for the effective application of the drone rules. Some of which include –
Setting Up of Airspace Maps – The central government by notification will publish the airspace map on the Digital sky platform by segregating the different zones.
Interactive Maps – A program will be developed which shall provide the exact zone while before using the UAV which will help them to know whether they need prior permission before taking off.
Due Diligence To be Followed – Before taking a flight in any zone, it is the duty of the pilot to check on the Digital Sky platform whether that zone is clear from any restriction as provided in the Digital Sky Platform. The UAV shall be used not for endangering any property or person.
Restrictive use of UAVs: No UAVs shall be used for carrying arms, ammunition or any explosives except with the written permission by the central government, and carriage of goods shall be in compliance with the Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003.
Remote Pilot Licencing
The UAV shall only be operated by the holder of a valid remote pilot license. The license provides the authorization for the Specific class of UAVs. Though, exemptions are provided in the case of nano and micro Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Eligibility to Obtain Remote Pilot License
All people are eligible who are-
- Between ages of 18- 65 years;
- Passed class 10th examination;
- Completed training from a pilot training organization as may be specified by the director-general.
Procedure to obtain Remote Pilot license
The applicant after passing the test within 7 days shall make an application under Form D-4, providing the details of the test and other information. After inquiring about the test and considering the test results, the certificate will be granted to the person in whose favour the application was made.
Validity of the License
The license will be valid only if it is enlisted on the digital sky platform or not suspended or cancelled subject to 10 years of applicability. The renewal can also be done by payment of fees and the applicant may also be asked to again take the test or refresher course before providing the license.
Remote Pilot Training Organization
In furtherance of granting allowance to authorized remote pilot training organizations is important to be established by the government.
Procedure for obtaining authorization
Anyone who wants to establish a remote pilot training organization shall make an application in Form D-6, and within filing the director General may within 60 days issue the authorization after verifying the information as provided in the form. After obtaining the authorization, the organization is valid for 10 years unless suspended and can be renewed after paying the requisite fees.
The authorized organization needs to ensure strict compliance with requirements like syllabus, infrastructure, instructors, proficiency testing and issuance of remote pilot certificates while conducting tests for the category, sub-category and class of unmanned aircraft system.
Exception for the regulation of Unmanned Aircraft System Operations for Research, Development, and Testing
There is no requirement to obtain a type certificate, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot license for operating unmanned aircraft systems for research, development and testing purposes, which includes-
- Any research and development entity recognized by the Central Government or State Government or Union Territory Administration.
- Any educational institution recognized or administered by the Central Government or State Government or Union Territory Administration.
- Any startup of authorized testing entities for the internal trade and promotion of industry.
- Any unmanned aircraft system manufacturer having a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number:
It is to be noted that all the testing of such UAVs need to be done in the green zone.
Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management
The Central Government will come up with the framework for developing corridors for safe and seamless transfer of goods by unmanned aircraft systems within and across zones and also the responsibilities of the state governments and the Union Territory Administrations.
The insurance provision of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (59 of 1988) and rules shall be applicable to all UAVs except nano UAV. It is advised that all users shall use an insurance product.
Offences and penalties
If anyone fails to comply with these rules, they may incur liability under Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974). Rule 22 and 27, i.e. Requirement of prior permission and Prohibition on carriage of arms, ammunition, explosives and military stores, etc have been made cognizable and non-compoundable offences. The penalties in case of contravention of these rules shall not exceed rupees one lakh in accordance with the provisions of section 10A of the Act. The only defense taken in such a case of contravention or failure is proved to have been caused due to factors or circumstances, such as stress of weather or other unavoidable cause or circumstances, beyond the control of such person or without his knowledge or fault.
The Drone Rules, 2021 came up by rectifying the issues aroused in the previous rules. Despite such important rules governing the use of drones, there are some areas which have not been covered by it and in my opinion, these rules lack some provisions which may include –
- Provide the provision relating to the minimum distance from the person while operating the UAVs to prevent any harm to people.
- Provide the provision that relates the use of UAVs not to affect the right to privacy as otherwise by the due procedure of law.
- Provision for UAVs regulation in Day and Night Cycle.
The Civil Aviation Ministry in further rules or legislation may implement these to provide a better regulatory framework for licensing and the authorization of UAVs and to protect the people, property and to have peaceful use of drones. In a tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ‘The new Drone Rules will tremendously help start-ups and our youth working in this sector. It will open up new possibilities for innovation & business. It will help leverage India’s strengths in innovation, technology & engineering to make India a drone hub’.
The Civil Aviation Minister Mr. Jyotiraditya Scindia also said that the rules will trigger a revolution and India will be a potential global drone hub by 2030.
In conclusion, the drone rules have liberalized the operation and the process required before operating a drone in India. Most importantly the form has been reduced to 5. Including the Digital Sky Platform, which will be a single-window platform that can provide basic information and regulate the registration process, certification, maintaining maps, allocating zones and the update of the same, which can control digitally the operations and traffic of UAVs. Only after a certain period of time the application and the working of the features of the rules can be reviewed. Till the last quarter of 2021, this has been the biggest development in the regulation of Drones in India brought by the Civil Aviation Ministry. There is a lot of development which is to be seen in the Ministry of Civil Aviation in the next decade as the laws for the regulation of hybrid cars will also come in place as Indian startups have come up with the working hybrid model car which can fly and run on roads. In the regime of drone regulation, the most important role is to be played by the regulation and the control of Digital Sky, the main software developed by the ministry to govern drones in India.
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