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Civil Aviation Ministry grants exemptions from UAS Rules to 10 organisations for drone use

Drone

First notified in June 2020, the UAS Rules seek to regulate the use of drones; although police departments being exempted from it had sparked concerns among experts.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have granted exemptions from the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021, to 10 organisations which means that these organisations have conditional permission to use drones for various purposes. The permission is valid for a period of one year from the date of approval or until further notice, as per the government press release. 

Granting permission to conduct trials to deliver essential healthcare items in tribal areas is seen as a welcome step. In the last few months, Palghar has witnessed several malnutrition deaths and if this experiment is successful then it can be implemented in other areas as well, thus making the provision of healthcare items more accessible to Indians living in far-flung areas.

Organisations that have been granted permission for drone use 

  • National Health Mission, Mumbai: For conducting experimental BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drone flights to deliver essential healthcare items in tribal areas of Jawhar in the Palghar district of Maharashtra 
  • Government of Karnataka: Drone-based aerial survey for creating urban property ownership records in Bengaluru.
  • Gangtok Smart City Development: Drone-based aerial survey for Smart City Project
  • Steel Authority of India, IISCO Steel Plant, Burnpur, West Bengal: For conducting perimeter surveillance of the plant
  • Asia Pacific Flight Training Academy, Hyderabad, Telangana: For conducting remote pilot training using drones
  • Blue Ray Aviation, Gujarat: For conducting remote pilot training using drones
  • Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited, Chennai: For conducting drone-based aerial spraying to assess crop health and prevent crop disease
  • Mahindra & Mahindra, Mumbai, Maharashtra: For conducting drone-based agricultural trials &andprecision spraying on paddy & hot pepper crops in the state of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh respectively
  • Bayer Crop Science, Mumbai, Maharashtra: For conducting drone-based agricultural research activities and agricultural spraying
  • Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune: For atmospheric research at these 5 locations: IITM, Bhopal; NDA, Pune; Karad Airport; Osmanabad Airport; Mohammed Airfield, Farrukhabad.

What are the UAS Rules 2021? The UAS Rules were notified in June 202o and were meant to regulate drone usage. The rules had provisions that allowed the central government to exempt any drone or class of drones or any person from adhering to these rules. Such exemptions are given “in general” or through a “special written order”. The Rules also allowed student remote pilots to operate drones and permitted drone operations beyond the visual line of sight.

It is important to note that the UAS Rules are going to be replaced by the Drone Rules 2021. The Drone Rules seem to abolish various norms in a bid to promote the drone industry.

Conditional exemption from UAS Rules to Home Ministry and police departments

In April 2020, the central government issued a conditional exemption to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the police departments of various state governments and Union Territories (UT) from the UAS Rules.

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However, experts had raised concerns that exempting police departments from adhering to the UAS Rules would lead to increased drone surveillance. On one hand, there were calls for a standard operating procedure and a review committee to review the exemptions that were being made by executive agencies which were not provided for in the UAS Rules. On the other hand, a few experts saw it as a welcome move since it provided adequate flexibility to not impede the immediate requirement during the time of emergency and disaster relief.

Government approves more green zones for drones 

In June, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had granted permission for drone operations in 166 additional green zones across the country, thus bringing the total to 232 zones. The ministry had allowed “No-permission-no takeoff” compliant drone operations up to 400 feet above the ground level across these zones which do not require Air Traffic Control service. 

The new green zones added to the list, along with the number of sites, included the following states: Andhra Pradesh (4), Chhattisgarh (17), Gujarat (2), Jharkhand (30), Karnataka (6), Madhya Pradesh (24), Maharashtra (22), Odisha (30), Punjab (1), Rajasthan (6), Tamil Nadu (7), Telangana (9), Uttar Pradesh (8).

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