India on Thursday announced new regulations for operating drones, bringing down compliance burden by shortening the approval process, allowing self-certification, and reducing documentation.
The rules will replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, which came into effect only in March this year. The requirement of a new set of rules was felt after industry said the existing rules were tough to follow for drone companies, many of which are new-age start-ups.
“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.
“This drone policy will create history. We think an ecosystem should be established to create a revolution,” said Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, adding he thought India would become a hub of drone manufacturing by 2030.
He added that simultaneously the government was working on giving approval to the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) operations for drones. While Visual Line of Sight flights are dependent upon and operated within the pilot’s line of sight, BVLoS allows drones to fly beyond the visual range, lowering the cost of operation and making it feasible to deploy drones for commercial purposes like food or medicine delivery or air taxi.
“The time is not far when like taxis that you see on roads, like Uber, etc., you will see taxis in the air under the new drone policy. I believe this is very possible,” he said.
The decision to simplify the licensing requirements, relax operational curbs, and reduce penalties for operators was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, just days after the terror attack in Jammu using drones, said people in the know. The meeting was attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Sources said while there were concerns about the security aspect of drones, top government officials were of the view that restricting the drone industry would stifle a sunrise sector which holds significant promise for the future.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had recently short-listed three firms - Throttle Aerospace, ANRA Technologies, and Dhaksha Unmanned Systems -- to start trial for BVLoS operations. Multiple changes have been proposed to the new regulations. The number of forms to be filled out to seek authorisation before operating a drone has been reduced from 25 to six; multiple approvals required earlier like unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit have now been abolished. The rules also increase the coverage of drones from 300 kilos (kg) to 500 kg, and will include heavy payload-carrying drones and drone taxis.
The new drone rules remove security clearance before any registration or licence issuance, reduce yellow zone from 45 kilometre (km) to 12 km from the airport perimeter, and allow the use of micro drones (for non-commercial use) and nano drones without remote pilot licence.
The penalty, in case of non-adherence to the new rules, will not exceed Rs 1 lakh.
"The issuance of these rules marks a new era in the Indian drone ecosystem which has a market potential of more than Rs 50,000 crore and can create 500,000 professional jobs in the next five years. The regulations, which cover drones up to 500 kg, shall open up opportunities for indigenous manufacturing of delivery drones and drone taxis, making India future-ready. The establishment of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council, which includes industry and academia, showcases that the government recognises drone technology as one of national importance," said Smit Shah, director, Drone Federation of India.
The Centre may promote the adoption of drones and unmanned vehicles through the constitution of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council, according to the rules, which would facilitate development of a business-friendly regulatory regime, including automated permissions, establishment of incubators and other facilities for the development of unmanned aircraft system technologies, involvement of industry experts and academic institutions in policy advice, and organising competitive events involving unmanned aircraft systems and counter-unmanned aircraft system technologies.
However, there is still work to be done. An interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones (depending upon national security) will have to be developed on the digital sky platform. No flight permission will be required up to 400 feet (ft) in green zones and up to 200 ft in the area between 8 km and 12 km from the airport perimeter.
“We have started working with states and defence organisations for them to identify the red, green, and yellow zones. This will take another two months, following which the digital sky platform will be live,” said Scindia.