New rules make it easier and cheaper to operate drones
The policy, a liberalized version of rules first announced in March, will exempt a drone operator from seeking security clearance before registering a drone or applying for a licence. Also, foreign companies registered in India will be allowed to import and operate drones and their parts and will be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (“UAS Rules”) was released on March 12, 2021. Thereafter, as required under Section 14 of the Aircraft Act, 1934, vide notification of the Government of India in the MoCA number G.S.R. 489 (E), dated July 15, 2021 proposed the draft of the Drone Rules, 2021 (“Draft”) in supersession of the UAS Rules. MoCA invited objections and suggestions from all parties likely to be affected by the Draft and after incorporating the necessary suggestions and in exercise of its powers under Sections 5, 10(2), 10A, 10B and 12A of the Aircraft Act, 1934 issued the Drone Rules, 2021 (“Rules”) on August 25, 2021. Let us see the crucial aspects of the Rules to understand its application, compliances and consequences for not following it while operating an aircraft that can operate autonomously or can be operated remotely without a pilot on board, known as unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) in India.
- Applicability: The Rules apply to all persons owning or possessing, or engaged in leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining UAS in India, all UAS that are registered in India, and all UAS that are being operated for the time being, in or over India. But, it shall not apply to UAS except in case of UAS with maximum all-up-weight of more than 500 kg or UAS belonging to, or used by, the naval, military or air forces of the Union of India.
- Classification: The UAS shall be categorized into three categories of aeroplane, rotorcraft (a heavier-than-air aircraft supported in flight by the reactions of the air on one or more power driven rotors on substantially vertical axes) and hybrid UAS (means a heavier-than-air UAS capable of vertical take-off and landing which depends principally on power-driven lift devices or engine thrust for the lift during the flight regimes and on non-rotating airfoil for lift during horizontal flight) and they are further sub-categorised as (a) remotely piloted aircraft system (“RPAS”); (b) model RPAS (RPAS with all-up weight not exceeding 25 kg, used for educational, research, design, testing or recreational purpose only and operated within visual line of sight); and (c) autonomous UAS. The UAS shall, based on the maximum all-up weight including payload, be classified as (a) Nano UAS: weighing less than or equal to 250 gm; (b) Micro UAS: weighing more than 250 gm, but less than or equal to 2 kg; (c) Small UAS: weighing more than 2 kg, but less than or equal to 25 kg; (d) Medium UAS: weighing more than 25 kg, but less than or equal to 150 kg; and (e) Large UAS: weighing more than 150 kg.
- Certification of UAS: No person shall operate a UAS in India unless such UAS conforms to a type certificate or is exempted from the requirement of a type certificate. The central government may specify the standards for obtaining a type certificate for UAS on the recommendation of the Quality Council of India (“QCI”) and may promote the use of made-in-India technologies, designs, components and UAS and Indian regional navigation satellite system, namely, Navigation with Indian Constellation. Any person, who intends to obtain a type certificate, has to make an application on the digital sky platform (“DSP”) along with the fee as specified in Rule 46 and information/documents specified in Rule 9, which is examined by QCI and then a test report along with its recommendations is submitted to the DGCA within 60 days from the date of receipt of the application. The DGCA shall issue a type certificate based on the test report and recommendation received within 15 days of receiving such test report. No type certificate shall be required for manufacturing or importing a UAS or for operating a model remotely piloted aircraft system and a nano UAS. The Rules also allow acceptance of approvals given by foreign regulators and may issue type certification to that type of UAS. Import of UAS shall be regulated by the DGFT or any other entity authorised by the central government. The Rules provides that the central government would specify mandatory safety features to be installed on an UAS by persons owning it, which may include among others, “no permission no take off” hardware and firmware, real-time tracking beacon that communicates the UAS’s location, altitude, speed and unique identification number and geo-fencing capability (restricting the movement of unmanned aircraft system within a defined airspace). Once specified, these features should be adopted within 6 months from the date of publication of such notification.
- Registration of UAS: No person shall operate a UAS without first registering it on the DSP and obtaining a unique identification number (“UIN”), unless exempted and also ensure conformity to a valid type approval. DGCA has to maintain registration record. Any person who intends to register and obtain a UIN for his UAS shall make an application on the DSP and upon verification issue a UIN to the applicant. The UIN of a UAS shall be linked to the unique serial number (“USN”) provided by the manufacturer and the USN of its flight control module and RPAS. No person shall replace the flight control module or RPAS of an UAS whose serial number is linked to such UAS’s UIN, without first updating, on the DSP, the USN of the new flight control module or RPAS, within a period of 7 days from the date of such replacement or before operating such UAS, whichever is earlier. A person owning an UAS manufactured in India or imported into India on or before the November 30, 2021 shall, within a period of 31 days make an application to register and obtain a UIN for his UAS. A person may transfer an UAS to another person by way of sale, lease, gift or any other mode, after providing requisite details of the transferor, transferee and UIN of the UAS on the DSP. Where a UAS registered in a person’s name is either permanently lost or permanently damaged, he shall, on arriving at a reasonable conclusion that it is so lost or damaged, apply for deregistration of such UAS.
- Airspace and Zoning: The central government may publish on the DSP, an airspace map for UAS operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red zone, yellow zone and green zone, with a horizontal resolution equal or finer than 10 meters. No person shall operate in a red zone or yellow zone without prior permission and no prior permission shall be required for operating in a green zone, subject to the provisions of Rule 21. The airspace map for UAS operations shall be so designed as to be programmatically accessible through a machine readable Application Programming Interface and interactive so that UAS pilots shall be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval. Before commencing a UAS operation, a remote pilot shall mandatorily verify the DSP for any notification or restriction applicable to UAS operations in the intended area of operation. The central government may update the airspace map on DSP for UAS operations from time to time in order to change the status of an area from one zone to another and such change shall come into effect within 7 days of the update.
- Obligations: No person shall (i) operate a UAS in a manner, either directly or indirectly, as to endanger the safety and security of any person or property; or (ii) carry or cause or permit to be carried in any UAS to, from, within or over India, any arms, ammunitions, munitions of war, implements of war, explosives and military stores, except with the written permission of the central government or any other person authorised by the central government in this behalf and subject to the terms and conditions of such permission; or (iii) carry dangerous goods on unmanned aircraft unless such operation is in compliance with the Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003; or (iv) violate the right of way of a manned aircraft and shall remain clear of all manned aircrafts. Accidents should be reported to the DGCA through the DSP within 48 hours of the accident.
- Remote pilot licence (“RPL”): A valid RPL enlisted on the DSP is mandatory to operate a UAS. Such RPL should mention the category, sub-category and classification of the UAS or a combination of these, for which it is issued. To get an RPL one must be 18-65 years of age, passed 10th exam and completed such training as may be specified by the DGCA from any authorised remote pilot training organisation. An RPL can be applied only after completing the necessary training. An RPL remains valid for 10 years only if it is enlisted on the DSP or unless suspended or cancelled. It can be renewed for another 10 years. Such license would not be required for operating a nano UAS and a micro UAS for non-commercial purposes.
- Research, Development and Testing: The Rules gives a negative list of person who would not require a type certificate, UIN or prior permission and RPL for operating a UAS for research, development and testing.
- Insurance: The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and rules made thereunder shall apply, mutatis mutandis, to the third party insurance of UAS and compensation in case of damage to life or property caused by such UAS provided that a nano UAS may operate without third party insurance. Such insurance may be specially designed for such operations and be approved by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India.
- Offences: No person shall carry out any activity in contravention of the Rules. The contravention of Rule 22 (operating UAS in a red zone or yellow zone without prior permission) and Rule 27 (carriage of arms, ammunition, explosives and military stores, etc. without written permission of the central government) shall be cognizable and non-compoundable. Any stress of weather or other unavoidable cause or circumstances, beyond the control of such person or without his knowledge or fault leading contravention of, or failure to comply with the Rules shall be considered as a valid defence in any proceeding. An opportunity of being heard shall be provided in any proceeding and upon satisfaction that a person has contravened or failed to comply with the Rules and recording of reasons in writing, levy a penalty up to 1 lakh rupees or even cancel or suspend any licence, certificate, authorisation or approval granted under the Rules. The DGCA or any person authorised by him, by general or special order in writing, may inspect any UAS, any related facility, interact with any personnel, and inspect any document or record for the purpose of securing compliance and such person should not be obstructed.