The new Drone Rules, 2021 notified by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) have been brought into force from 26th August 2021. Henceforth, the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 stands repealed following opposition faced from various stakeholders including startups, end-users, academia, among others for their restrictive nature and inconveniences caused therefrom including but not limited to sizeable paperwork, permissions and compliance requirements and entry barriers.
Through the introduction of new Drone Rules, 2021 MoCA has sought to liberalize the rules by introducing constructive developments in its framework. With an aim to relax the unmanned aircraft system for civilians and companies, MoCA has liberalized the laws regulating the ownership of drones, its operation and handling and in a manner so as to not to pose a risk to people’s security, safety and assets. Essentially, it has simplified and effectuated drone operations and its regulation.
The key features of Drone Rules 2021 include;
Procedure for Application
The framework for drone operations has been changed significantly. The drone coverage which now includes heavy payload-carrying and drone taxis has been increased from 300kg to 500kg. In another development, the forms to be filled by drone owners has been decreased from twenty-five to five. Similarly, the total number of fees to be paid for drone operations has been reduced from seventy-two to four.
Abolition of Various Approvals
Numerous approvals and requirements concerning the drone’s unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot license, remote pilot instructor authorisation, and drone port authorisation, etc. have been abolished.
Digital Sky Platform
The Civil Aviation Ministry will develop a Digital Sky Platform which will act as a user-friendly, single-window platform for drone clearances requirements. In addition to this, the platform will display an interactive airspace map with green, yellow and red zones. The Yellow Zone perimeter has been reduced from 45kms to 12kms from the airport perimeter. Prior permission is needed to operate a drone in a red zone or yellow zone but, no permission is needed to operate a drone in the green zone. The purpose of the demarcation of the zones is to inform drone operators about the flying requirements. Moreover, the process specified for the transfer and deregistration of drones has been made easier through the online platform which will also provide for registration of all the drones.
Licensing and Regularization
The issuance of the remote pilot license by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) shall occur within 15 days of the pilot receiving the remote pilot certificate from the authorized drone school. An authorized drone school will oversee and carry out drone training and examination. The DGCA shall also oversee the drone schools and prescribe training requirements.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council
For the purpose of promoting the adoption and use of drones, the Central Government may constitute an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council which shall facilitate the development of a business-friendly regulatory regime, establishment of incubators and other facilities to promote drone technologies, involvement of industry experts and academic institutions in policy advice and organizing competitive events involving drones and counter-drone technologies.
Security Clearance and Import
Unlike earlier regulations where a security clearance was necessary prior to the issuance of a registration or a license, no such security clearance is required henceforth. The import of drones, will still be regulated by the DGFT, Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
Safety and security features including ‘No permission – no takeoff’ (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing etc. shall be notified in future, with a six-month lead time provided to the industry for compliance purposes.
Violations and Penalty
The maximum penalty for violating the rules has been reduced to Rs. 1 lakh from Rs. 5 lakhs as specified in Rule 50 of the new Drone Rules, 2021.
The new drone policy recognizes the importance and the tremendous benefits that Unmanned Aircraft Systems offer to all sectors of the economy, namely agriculture, infrastructure, surveillance, transportation etc. It also leverages the scope of employment and economic growth owing to the reach, versatility, ease of use of drones particularly across India’s remote and inaccessible areas. The Rules, 2021 aim to encourage start-ups and the youth employed in the sector for innovation, engineering and business, making the country a global drone hub by 2030.