Drone use gets big push

Junking its 3-month-old drone policy following industry complaints over a plethora of approvals and clearances, the government has come out with a radically liberalised set of draft rules that pave the way for drone taxis and dedicated corridors for cargo deliveries. Given the unlimited potential of drones waiting to be tapped, the PMO had recently reviewed the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules (UAS Rules) that came into force this March.

Now, the aviation ministry has sought public comments on a much simplified “Drone rules, 2021” till August 5. After taking the comments into consideration, the final rules are expected to be issued that will replace the stricter UAS rules. Coming after the Jammu airport drone attack, the changes indicate while the Centre takes steps to counter rogue drones, it is also willing to allow the technology to achieve its potential.

Civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the draft drone rules 2021 will provide “a major fillip to the drone industry… (and) mark a stark shift from the earlier UAS Rules….” He said the key features of the proposed new rules were: “Several approvals abolished and processes made easier; number of forms reduced from 25 to 5; no security clearance needed before registration or licence issuance; easy process for transfer and de-registration of drones; no pilot licence required for nano drones (up to 250gram), micro drones (up to 2kg) for noncommercial use…”

The government’s move to change the drone policy has got a thumbs up from the industry.

Scindia tweeted, “Drones are bringing the next big tech revolution around the globe with reduced costs, resources and time taken for operations. It is upon us to ride on the new wave and facilitate its uptake, especially among our startups.”

The fees for using drones will also be cut sharply. Also, now there will be no restriction on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India. The maximum penalty under new rules will be capped at Rs 1 lakh (not including penalties for violating other laws). The draft rules strike a balance in simplifying their use in a manner while ensuring “they do not pose any risk to safety or security of people and assets”. The proposed rules will cover drones weighing up to 500kg, instead of 300kg earlier, and cover drone taxis also. And drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries.

“The draft drone rules are built on a premise of trust, self-certification and non-intrusive monitoring,” said a senior official.

Among the radical changes proposed are abolishing several approvals, including getting unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation and drone port authorisation.

Safety features like “no permission–no takeoff”, real-time tracking beacon and geo-fencing will be notified in future. A six-month lead time will be provided for compliance.

Under the proposed changed rules, interactive airspace map with green, yellow and red zones will be displayed on the digital sky platform. Yellow zone is proposed to be reduced from 45km to 12km from the airport perimeter. No flight permission required up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8km and 12km from the airport perimeter.

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