In July 2021, the Government of India released a draft for the new set of drone laws. These drone laws, when implemented, will supersede all existing drone regulations in the country. On 12th March 2021, the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) finalized the UAS Rules 2021. These rules were criticized for their restrictive nature that made becoming a drone pilot, manufacturer, or importer a challenging task. After evaluating the feedback, the draft for the new drone laws was formulated.
The new drone laws are created to be more drone-friendly and are built upon the premise of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring. The number of application forms has been reduced from 25 to 6. There have been several new changes compared to the existing regulations. Let’s take a look at what the new drone rules entail.
The classification of drones has been made fairly simple in the new drone rules. In the previous UAS Rules, drones were categorized based on their method of operation and then further classified based on their size and speed. However, the latest draft rules classify drones into:
- Nano drone: Less than or equal to 250 grams;
- Micro drone: Greater than 250 gram and less than or equal to 2 kilograms;
- Small drone: Greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms;
- Medium drone: Greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms; and
- Large drone: Greater than 150 kilograms.
The removal of speed and altitude restriction from nano drones will provide greater flexibility of operation such as FPV and hobby drones.
Certification and Compliance
The certification section is where we can see a lot of new changes. To begin with, only drones with a certificate of airworthiness from the QCI (Quality Council of India) can be operated in India. QCI has been appointed as the official certification entity that is responsible for issuing an airworthiness certificate to manufacturers on the Digital Sky platform if the drone meets all the specified certification standards.
Since these are draft drone rules, no certification standard has been specified by the Government yet. However, the Government has mentioned that “These standards may promote the use of made-in-India technologies, designs, components and drones; and India’s regional navigation satellite system named Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).”
How to get a drone certified?
The old process for drone certification for manufacturers and importers was arduously long and complicated. Manufacturers and importers needed to apply for a Unique Authorisation Number (UAN), a Unique Prototype ID, and a Certificate of Conformance.
All of these additional requirements have been scrapped in the new drone rules. The process has been streamlined to just four simple steps. Applicants can now apply for drone certification with just a single D-1 form. The steps are as follows:
- Provide the name, contact details, and GSTIN on the D-1 form
- Details and supporting documents regarding the prototype drone
- Proof of fee payment
- Handing over the prototype drone to the certification body.
Note: Equipment Type Approval (ETA) from the WPC ministry may still be required as a supporting document in the D-1 form. This requirement will be updated in the final publication of the new drone laws.
Import and Foreign Approval
The draft drone rules provide a great deal of relaxation to importers and international drone manufacturers. Firstly, the import of drone and drone components will now be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
Secondly, the QCI may certify drones based on the approvals granted by foreign regulatory bodies. This is a huge step towards allowing international drones into the Indian market. For instance, if a drone such as DJI Mavic 2 was approved as safe to fly by the FAA and ISO, the Quality Council of India may allow the import of Mavic Air 2. However, non-NPNT compliant drones that are approved and imported must still be equipped with mandatory safety hardware and firmware as specified by the Government.
The Government has not yet specified the list of mandatory safety features that every drone must be equipped with. However, core features must be included such as:
- NPNT (No Permission No Takeoff) firmware and hardware
- Remote ID (real-time tracking for the broadcast of the drone’s UIN, location, altitude, and speed)
- Geo-fencing capability
The amendment here is that from the date of notification of the draft rules, manufacturers will get a six-month extension to adopt all the mandatory safety features and NPNT compliance. This can largely benefit imported drones. Nano drones and prototype drones are exempt from the certificate of airworthiness.
Registering Your Drone
Registering a drone with the DGCA has been made easier than ever before. Every drone that is operated in India, except nano drones, must have a Unique Identification Number (UIN). Generating a drone’s UIN is fairly simple. According to the new rules:
- Purchase a drone that has been certified by the QCI
- The manufacturer will provide you with a set of unique serial numbers for the drone and its control station module.
- Using the details provided by the manufacturer, fill out the D-2 form on the Digital Sky platform and generate your UIN
Once you receive a drone’s UIN on Digital Sky, the registration is complete.
In the case of existing drones that have been manufactured in India or imported to India before 31st December 2021, they will follow a similar process. Firstly, these drones will need to be enlisted on the drone enlistment portal. Each drone enlisted will receive a DAN (Drone Acknowledgement Number).
The unregistered drone will then need to be sent to QCI to get a certificate of airworthiness. Once your drone has received a certificate of airworthiness, you can fill out the D-2 form on Digital Sky and generate its UIN.
The new drone rules also make the transfer and deregistration of drones simple. If you want to transfer your drone to another person, all you need to do is fill out the D-3 form on Digital sky with details of the transferor, transferee, and the UIN of the drone. Similarly, one can even apply for the deregistration of a drone through the D-3 form if it has been lost or permanently damaged.
Defining the Indian Airspace
The draft drone rules mention that within 30 days of the notification of the draft rules, the Central Government will publish, on the Digital Sky platform, an airspace map for drone operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow, and green zones, with a horizontal resolution equal or finer than 10 meters.
The Green, Yellow, and Red zone maps will be made interactive so that drone pilots can easily access these maps and plan their drone operation on the Digital Sky platform.
Green Zone according to the draft rules means: “The airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 meters) above ground level (AGL) that has not been designated as a red zone or yellow zone in the airspace map for drone operations; and the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 200 feet (60 meters) AGL in the area located between a lateral distance of 8 kilometers and 12 kilometers from the perimeter of an operational airport”
Drone operations carried in the green zone will not require any prior permission. However, these zones will be dynamic and can be subject to change or temporary restrictions. Therefore, a drone pilot must check the flight plan before an operation to ensure they’re not violating any airspace rules.
Remote Pilot License
Unless you’re operating a nano drone or a micro drone for non-commercial purposes, every drone pilot must have a valid remote pilot license in India. The remote pilot license must mention the class of the drone, which the pilot can operate, and the successful completion of training. The previous UAS Rules mentioned the need for security clearances from the MHA, student pilot license, and a radio operator’s certificate before one could get a remote pilot license.
The draft drone rules have changed this entire procedure. Now, an applicant can receive their remote pilot license on Digital Sky within 15-20 days of completing their drone pilot training. To be eligible for a remote pilot license an applicant must:
- Be of 18+ years of age and not more than 65 years.
- Has an educational qualification of class from a recognized board
- Has completed remote pilot training from a DGCA-authorized drone pilot training school
The entire process of obtaining the license takes place on Digital Sky. The applicant must also pay the certificate fees on the platform. Once granted, the remote pilot license will remain valid for 10 years.
Additional Changes Under the Draft Drone Rules
Here are some more important regulations that are mentioned in the draft:
- Drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries.
- Coverage of drones increased from 300 kg to 500 kg. This will pave the way for drone taxis in the future.
- Drone promotion council to be set up to promote the usage of drones across several industries.
- The maximum penalty under Drone Rules, 2021 reduced to INR 1 lakh. This shall, however, not apply to penalties in respect of violation of other laws.
- All drones (except nano drones) will require third-party insurance as per the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
The draft drone rules can make flying, buying, manufacturing, and importing a drone a simple process in India. The Government has kept Digital Sky as its focal point for all permissions and approvals. It has stressed the concept of self-certification with a minimum number of manual approvals. From a drone pilot’s point of view, the remote pilot license and UIN fees together will cost just Rs. 200. This will eliminate the frictional components of the legal framework and support a steady growth of the Indian drone industry.