The Drone Rules, 2021 were released for public consultation by the government on 15th July 2021. The rules came into effect on 25th August 2021 and seek to revamp the regulatory regime for drones. These rules are more permissive and have improved the ease of doing business from the previous two iterations of regulations on drones. This blogpost summarises the provisions of the Drone Rules and highlights takeaways for drone operators and manufacturers.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation or MoCA, in August 2021, notified the Drone Rules 2021. These rules were released just 6 months after the previous draft of regulations on drones, the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (UAS Rules), released in March 2021. This blogpost summarises the Drone Rules and tracks changes made from the UAS Rules.
Highlights of the Drone Rules, 2021
- The Drone Rules apply to drones with an all-up-weight (weight of drone and payload together) of 500 kg, an upgrade from the previous limit of 300 kg.[i] The weight categories for classifying drones as nano, micro, small, medium and large have been retained from the UAS Rules.
- The additional factors of maximum speed attainable in flight and maximum attainable height used in classification of nano drones have been removed. All unmanned aircraft systems shall now be categorised only by their all-up-weight.
- Online registration of all drones will take place on the Digital Sky platform, an online platform that will be used to regulate registration and operation of drones. This will be a single-window registration mechanism and no separate clearances are required to be sought from other departments.
- Manufacturers of drones will need to obtain Type Certificates through the Digital Sky platform for each new model of a drone. The drone will need to be physically handed over to Quality Council of India or an authorised testing entity for examination before the Type Certificate is issued. QCI is required to issue regulations on requirements for obtaining Type Certificates for different types of drones.
- The Type Certificate number will be given by the manufacturer to users, which they can use to obtain a Unique Identification Number through the Digital Sky platform for each individual drone.
- Deadlines set for the regulator for issuing Type Certificates and the interactive maps on the Digital Sky Platform. Type Certificates need to be issued within 75 days of the application being submitted. The interactive map will be uploaded within 30 days of the rules being notified.
- No Type certificates required for a model remotely piloted aircraft system or for a nano unmanned aircraft system.
- Import of drones will be regulated only by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
- Foreign companies can now own and operate drones in India.
- Future regulations may mandate the inclusion of safety features on drones. The earlier mechanism of No Permission No Takeoff will not be implemented immediately.
- The government will set up an interactive map with 3 kinds of zones- green, yellow and red. Prior permission is required to fly only in the red and yellow zones. The government is required to release the map by 24th September 2021.
- All drone operators except those operating nano drones or micro drones for noncommercial purposes need to obtain a drone pilot license. Drone pilots applying for a license are required to complete training from an authorised remote pilot training organisation.
- Recognised research and development bodies, educational institutions, start-ups, or other authorised testing entities do not need to obtain a UIN, type certificate, remote pilot license, or other clearances to test in a green zone that is under their control.
- The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 concerning third party insurance will apply to drones as well.
- An Unmanned Aircraft System Promotion Council will be set up that shall facilitate progress for the industry.
- There is no mention of Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations, drone swarms, imagery captured by drones, drones for delivery or drone ports in the present rules despite regulations on these topics under the previous rules (UAS Rules).
Summarising the Drone Rules, 2021
|S.No||Provision Number||Provision Topic||Provision|
|1.||2||Applicability of Rules||The Rules apply to all drones with maximum all-up-weights of up to 500 kgs which are registered in India or being operated over India.|
|2.||5||Categories of unmanned aircraft systems||The categories of unmanned aircraft systems- aircraft that can be operated either autonomously or remotely- are based only on weight. There are four categories: Nano UAS: Less than 250 gmsMicro UAS: Between 250 gms and 2 kgsSmall UAS: Between 2 kgs and 25 kgsMedium UAS: Between 25 kgs and 150 kgsLarge UAS: Between 150 kgs and 500 kgs|
|3.||Permission Requirements||Drone manufacturers need to obtain a Type Certificate for a model of drone not certified yet.Drone operators need to obtain a Unique Identification Number for each drone through registration with the Type Certificate number obtained.Pilots flying drones remotely need to obtain a drone pilot license to operate drones. (Exceptions for each requirement listed with in details below)|
|4.||6, 7, 8, 9, 13||Type Certificate||For each model of drone to be operated in India, a Type Certificate is needed. The standards for obtaining a Type Certificate are yet to be specified by the Quality Council of India. An application can be filed on the Digital Sky platform along with payment of fees. The details of the applicant and the prototype need to be submitted and the prototype needs to be physically handed over for inspection. A Type Certificate may be issued on the recommendation of the Quality Council of India or an authorised testing entity. The Type Certificate has to be issued within 75 days of the form being filled. Operators of model remotely piloted aircraft (used for research and development) and nano UAS do not need to obtain a Type Certificate for these aircraft systems.|
|5.||14, 15, 16||Registration||Drone operators need to register by filling out the relevant form on the Digital Sky platform along with payment of fees. The Type Certificate number of the drone also needs to be given, hence the model of drone being registered should already have been granted a Type Certificate. For drones manufactured in India or imported before 30th November 2021, application for registration should be made by 31st December 2021.|
|6.||31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36||Remote Pilot License||Any person piloting a drone requires a remote pilot license. The person should be between 18 and 65 years of age, have passed 10th standard, and have completed training from an authorised remote pilot training organisation. Once the training is completed, the pilot must fill the form for application for a remote pilot license on the Digital Sky platform. Within 15 days of issuance of certificate of training completing by the training organisation, the remote pilot license will be issued. License will be valid for 10 years. Pilots operating nano UAS or micro UAS for non-commercial purposes are exempt from the Remote Pilot License requirements.|
|7.||44||Insurance||All owners of drones except nano drones are required to obtain third party insurance for the drones before operation. The rules under Chapter XI of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 will apply to third party insurance of drones. Any Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India approved insurance scheme may be used.|
|8.||50||Penalty||The maximum penalty for contravening or failing to comply with the provisions of these rules is Rs. 1 Lakh.|
|9.||19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24||Airspace Maps||The Government will publish an airspace map on the Digital Sky platform by 25th September 2021. The map will segregate the airspace into red, yellow and green zones. Drone operators require prior permission for flying in a red or yellow zone. No prior permission or flight path registration is needed for flying in green zones. The map will be dynamic and areas may be subject to re-zoning. Senior officers may also declare an area as a red zone for upto 96 hours at a time. The map will be made machine readable through APIs.|
|10.||27, 28||Carriage of goods||No arms or munitions may be carried on any UAS. No dangerous goods can be carried on a UAS unless compliant with Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003. The UAS Rules had defined a procedure for carriage of goods which has been omitted from these rules. The Drone Rules specify no express procedure for carriage of goods.|
|11.||29||Mandatory reporting of an accident||Within 48 hours of an accident involving a UAS, the remote pilot shall report the accident on the Digital Sky platform.|
|12.||10, 11||Import||Imports will be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade. There may be issuance of Type Certificates for imported aircraft on the basis of approval by another country. The list of such countries whose approvals will be accepted will be notified by the Government.|
|13.||37, 38, 39, 40, 41||Remote Pilot Training Organisation||An application for authorisation as a Remote Pilot Training Organisation may be made on the Digital Sky platform. The requirements of syllabus, trainers and infrastructure will be specified at a future date. If the applicant complies with all of the specified requirements, the license will be granted within 60 days of the applicant being made. The authorisation is valid for 10 years.|
|14.||42||Research and Development||No remote pilot license, type certificate or unique identification number is required for the organisations listed below if they are operating in a green zone fully within the organisation’s control. The organisations permitted to do this are: R&D entity recognised by Central or State governments.Educational institutions recognised by Central or State governments.Startup recognised by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade;Any authorised testing entityAny manufacturer of drones having a GST Identification Number|
|15.||12||Mandatory Safety Features|| In the future, the Government may notify owners of UAS to install safety features which may include No Permission- No Takeoff hardware and firmware, Geo-fencing capability and a real-time tracking beacon. |
Once notified, operators of drones will have 6 months to comply with the requirements.
These features were included as mandatory requirements in previous iterations of the regulations but currently have been omitted from the Drone Rules.
|16.||43||UAS Traffic Management||The rules state that the Central Government will release a policy framework for traffic management of UAS on the Digital Sky platform by 25th October 2021.|
|17.||45||UAS Promotion Council||The government may set up a UAS Promotion Council which will help develop a business-friendly regulatory regime, establish incubators for UAS development, and involve policy experts and academics in developing policy recommendations.|
|18.||17||Transfer of UAS||When ownership or possession of UAS is being transferred, the relevant form on the Digital Sky platform should be updated with the details of the new owner/ possessor.|
|19.||18||Deregistration of UAS||When the UAS is permanently lost or damaged, the owner should apply for deregistration of the aircraft using the relevant form on the Digital Sky platform.|
Key Takeaways and Conclusion
- The rules are intended to greatly improve the ease of doing business in the sector by reducing the number of clearances and compliance requirements for registration as well as the fees to be paid. Single window clearance will also make it much easier to own and operate drones.
- The rules have omitted a number of onerous hardware and software requirements mandated in previous versions of the regulations such as geo-fencing capability, No Permission No Takeoff compliant hardware, and 360-degree collision avoidance system. This makes it easier for drones to be approved for operation at present. However, these rules leave scope for the government to introduce requirements for safety features at a future date. Once notified, these requirements will have to be complied with within a period of 6 months. This may lead to challenges for drone operators operating drones that do not have these features as they will need to either be made compliant or decommissioned from operations within the time period specified above.
- There are a number of policies that the government will release in the near future which will shape how these rules are implemented. These include standards for import and manufacturing, policy on traffic management and requirement of safety features.
- A number of regulations of importance to commerce such as Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations and drone swarms have been omitted from these rules, which were included in the UAS Rules.
- The Government has left out a number of details specified in previous iterations of the regulations from the Drone Rules, 2021. The scope of drone operations permitted as well as commercial viability of certain types of drone operations will depend upon subsequent regulations that the government may notify.
This piece has been authored by Rahul Krishna, a consultant working with Ikigai Business Consulting, with inputs from Aman Taneja, Senior Associate at Ikigai Law and Anirudh Rastogi, (firstname.lastname@example.org), Managing Partner at Ikigai Law.
[i] Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 s 67.
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