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Reactions: What did the Indian drone industry have to say about Drone Rules 2021 being notified?

Stakeholders in the drone industry largely welcomed the rules with some believing that it marked a new era in the Indian drone ecosystem while it did not entirely sit well with others. 

“We welcome the notification of The Drone Rules 2021. It rightly abolishes numerous approvals and has reduced the number of forms drastically […] However, these rules have surprisingly introduced the provision of a ‘Type Certificate’ for UAS […] which may impede indigenisation of drones in India,” Dr Lalit Gupta, the president of an Indian aviation industry body AvTech Forum (ATFI), said.

The draft Drone Rules which relaxed several existing norms and reduced compliance burden on the industry was notified by the Ministry of Civil Aviation Ministry on August 26. These rules have now replaced the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, issued in March this year.

Read MediaNama’s full summary of the Drone Rules 2021 here

The discussions for the new Drone Rules were spurred by a suspected drone attack on an Indian Air Force base in Jammu Airport. After that, the Prime Minister along with officials from several key ministries such as the Ministry of Civil Aviation went into a huddle to discuss security measures as well as a review of the existing drone regulations. In the meeting, officials of MoCA presented a proposal for new drone regulations, and as reported before by MediaNama, this present draft comes after incorporating the suggestions made by the Prime Minister.

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The previous UAS Rules was notified in March, and it has introduced several layers of operational complexities for the drone industry. It mandated features such as —

  • Multi-level licensing and fee system for every drone-related activity
  • Penalties for non-compliance did not have any cap and so on

Key takeaways from Drone Rules 2021

Reduction in compliance burden

  • Unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, and import permission for drone components.
  • The number of forms/permissions has been reduced from 25 to 5.
  • All permissions shall be through a single nodal point i.e. DigitalSky platform.
  • No security clearance is required for conducting any activity in the drone sector.

Airspace maps for drones

  • Interactive airspace maps with green, yellow, and red zones will be launched on the digital sky platform and shall also be accessible using APIs.
  • Yellow zone for drones reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the perimeter of airports.
  • No permission is required for operating a drone in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 km from the perimeter of airports.

Registration of drones

  • Online registration of all drones required through the DigitalSky platform.
  • Easy process prescribed for sale, lease, gift, transfer, and deregistration of drones.
  • A limited window of opportunity is provided for regularisation of existing drones in the country. However, a GST-paid invoice shall be required for the same.

Drone training and certification:

  • Drone training and exams to be carried out by a DGCA authorised drone training school.
  • DGCA shall prescribe training requirements, oversee drone training schools, and provide drone pilot licences online.
  • No drone pilot licence is required for operating nano drones and micro drones for non-commercial use.
  • Type certification of drones delegated to the certification bodies that are authorised by the Quality Council of India.

Drone Deliveries and Drone Taxis:

  • Drones up to 500 kg shall be covered under these rules and this may pave the way for heavy payload-carrying drones and drone taxis.
  • Special drone corridors shall be developed for cargo deliveries.

Promotion of R&D and Indigenous Manufacturing:

  • No type certification, drone registration, remote pilot licence, or prior permission for flying drones required during research and development.
  • The Central Government shall issue certification standards that shall promote the use of made-in-India technologies, designs, drone components, and India’s NavIC regional positioning system.
  • An Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council including industry experts and academic institutions shall be set up. This council shall facilitate the development of a business-friendly regime, provide policy advice, and promote the overall development of the drone ecosystem.

Industry happy with norms

Smit Shah, Director of Drone Federation of India said, “The issuance of these rules marks a new era in the Indian drone ecosystem which has a market potential of more than INR 50,000 crores and can create 5,00,000 professional jobs in the next 5 years. The regulations which cover drones upto 500 kgs 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 a technology of national importance.”

Swapnik Jakkampuddi, Co-Founder, Skye Air Mobility welcomed the new drone rules by terming it as a “significant boost towards commercial use for civilian applications”.

The tremendous work by MoCA in understanding the industry and releasing such a forward policy on drones will enable growth in the industry. The drone delivery service will get a booster dose as we in the industry are now confident that the government will empower development in this space — Swapnik Jakkampuddi, Co-Founder, Skye Air Mobility

Anjan Dasgupta, Partner, DSK Legal, said, “The abolishment of several approvals, reduction of fees to nominal levels, etc. are indicative of the fact that the Government wishes to rationalise the regulatory regime surrounding operation of drones. Several entities across different sectors often seek exemption from the Ministry on Civil Aviation for drone operations, indicating the popularity of its usage. In this regard, the rules has the potential to offer tremendous benefits to several sectors.”

‘Certificate of Air Worthiness’ provision can impede indigenisation of drones: ATFI

Although it largely welcomed the new drone rules, AvTech Forum (ATFI) pointed out a particular provision (provision to issue Certificate of Air Worthiness to Drones) of the rules which did not sit well with them.

Gupta explained that the Aircraft Rules, 1937 and Annex 8 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) stated that a Type Certificate is issued by the ICAO to aircraft, engines, or propellers which meet certain requirements. “At present, there are no design airworthiness requirements for drones notified by ICAO,” Gupta pointed out.

In the absence of design airworthiness standards, neither a Type Certificate nor a Certificate of Airworthiness can be issued to drones. We, at Avtech Forum, believe that the provisions of Type Certificate, in the absence of design airworthiness standards, as contained in the UAS Rules 2021, may impede indigenisation of drones in India — Dr Gupta

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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