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Thursday, September 16, 2021

New drone rules make flying them easier and cheaper

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that the new drone rules usher in a landmark moment for the sector in India.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: August 27, 2021 4:17:27 am
Drones India rulesThe rules have also abolished the requirement of various approvals, including certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation and student remote pilot licence. (File Photo/Representative Image)

The government on Thursday notified the Drone Rules 2021 with an aim to liberalise the stringent regime for civilian drone operations that it had established 2018, when these drones were allowed for the first time.

The regulations notified by the Civil Aviation Ministry have lowered entry barriers — including cutting the number of registration forms to be filled to five from 25, and the number of fees payable to four from 72 — to make it simpler for operators to start using drones.

Significantly, however, the restrictions on operations “beyond visual line-of-sight” (BVLOS) — in which there is considerable industry interest and potential for commercial operations — have not been lifted.

Draft liberalised drone Rules were put out by the government for consultations last month, weeks after the drone attack on the Indian Air Force station in Jammu.

“The new Drone Rules usher in a landmark moment for this sector in India. The rules are based on the premise of trust and self-certification. Approvals, compliance requirements and entry barriers have been significantly reduced,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

“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,” he said.

The aviation safety regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had banned civilian drones in October 2014. More than four years later, the government had issued a set of rules to govern the operations of unmanned aircraft systems.

The 2018 Rules categorised drones according to their sizes, with separate sets of requirements. The Rules, which were overseen by the then Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, asked, for the first time in the world, drone companies to have a “no permission, no take-off” feature built into these aircraft — something that would not allow a drone to take off without prior registration and necessary approvals.

Explained

Key curb remains

Despite some easing, regulations continue to be restrictive with respect to BVLOS operations. The Civil Aviation Ministry has so far allowed BVLOS operations on a trial basis in some cases such as delivery of vaccines, medicines, etc.

The government has now said that safety features like ‘no permission, no take-off’, real-time tracking beacon, and geo-fencing, etc. would be notified in the future with a minimum six-month lead time for compliance.

The Rules notified on Thursday have done away with the slew of approvals required under the previous regime — such as having a unique authorisation number, a unique prototype identification number, a certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, certificates of conformance and maintenance, import clearance, operator permit, etc.

Fees have been reduced and delinked from the size of the drone. For example, the remote pilot licence fee, which used to be Rs 3,000 for a large drone, has been reduced to Rs 100 for all categories of drones.

BVLOS operations are, however, still not free. Tech companies, especially those involved in the delivery of goods, have said allowing BVLOS operations could trigger a surge in drone use across the country.

The requirement for approval from security agencies before a registration or licence could be issued, has been done away with in the new Rules.

The Ministry has said that the Digital Sky platform envisaged earlier would be developed as a platform for single-window clearance of all requirements. An interactive airspace map displayed on the platform will show yellow, green and red zones to convey to drone operators where they can or cannot fly their aircraft.

Norms have been liberalised within the zones as well. The yellow zone now extends to only 12 km from the perimeter of an airport, lowered from 45 km earlier. Beyond 12 km will be the green zone, where no permissions are now needed to fly.

Countries that allow civilian drone operations typically have no-fly zones around important security establishments, VVIP areas, airports, and other areas of strategic importance. In some of these areas, drones can be operated with prior permission. Such zones were prescribed in the 2018 regulations as well, and several industry operators had complained they were highly restrictive.

The new Rules cover unmanned aircraft systems of weight upto 500 kg from 300 kg earlier — which means even drone taxis on which some companies are working, would be regulated under this framework.

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