The Central Government on 25th August 2021 has promulgated liberalised 'The Drone Rules, 2021' ("the Rules"),1 replacing the erstwhile Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 ("Prior Rules"), to regulate the use and operation of Drones or Unmanned Aerial System ("UAS") in India. The Rules are based on the principles of "trust, self-certification and non-intrusive monitoring" by reducing the extent of regulatory control. The strict requirements under the Prior Rules like certificate of conformation, certificate of maintenance, operator permits, import clearance, authorization of R&D etc., have been abolished under the Rules. This is an important landmark in the Indian Legal system, since this may pave way for further laws based on the principle of self-regulation.
- The aim of the Rules is to create a 'digital sky platform' ("the Platform") which is a business-friendly single-window online system, with minimum human interference, where most of the permissions will be self-generated.
- The Rules have reduced the red-tape involved in the process of
- Number of forms have been reduced from 25 to 5.
- The types of fee have been reduced from 72 to 4.
- Quantum of fee has been reduced to nominal levels and delinked with size of drone. For instance, the fee for a remote pilot license fee has been reduced from INR 3000 (for large drone) to INR 100 for all categories of drones; and is valid for 10 years.
- Easier process is specified for transfer and deregistration of drones through the digital sky platform.
- Nano and model drones (made for research or recreation purposes) are exempt from type certification.
- Coverage of drones under Drone Rules, 2021 has been increased from 300 kg to 500 kg. This will cover drone taxis also.
- Type Certificate is required only when a drone is to be operated in India. Importing and manufacturing drones purely for exports are exempt from type certification and unique identification number.
- Drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries.
Summary of provisions:
1. Scope of Operation
The Rules cover all persons owning or possessing, or engaged in leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining a drone in India and all drones that are registered in India or being operated for the time being, in or over India.2 It seeks to regulate only the civilian usage of Drones and does not apply to drones used by the naval, military or air forces of the Union.3
2. Digital sky platform
The Rules have established an online platform hosted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ("DGCA"), for the management of various drone-related activities in India.4 The Platform seeks to provide a single-window online system, where most of the permissions of Drones can be generated by individuals, without any human intervention.
3. Definition and Classification of Drones
Drone has been defined as an unmanned aircraft system5 ("UAS"), that can operate autonomously or can be operated remotely without a pilot on board;6 The maximum all-up-weight for a drone is 500 Kilograms.
Drones have been classified based upon the maximum all-up weight (not more than 500 kilograms7) including payload as under –
(a) Nano drone: Less than or equal to 250 grams;
(b) Micro drone: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kilograms;
(c) Small drone: Greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms;
(d) Medium drone: Greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms; and
(e) Large drone: Greater than 150 kilograms.8
In case, the weight is more than 500 kilograms, the provisions of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 shall apply instead of the Drone Rules.9 This classification of drones has important consequences since they will govern the extent of regulatory compliance and permissions required for usage.
4. Drone Certification
The Rules mandate the requirement of obtaining a type certificate, from the Director General
or any entity authorised by DG, on the recommendation of the Quality Council of India or an authorised testing entity10, to operate the drone.11
However, a type certificate is not required for:
a) Manufacturing or importing a UAS.
b) operating a model remotely piloted aircraft system or a nano UAS.12
In order to obtain certification of Drone, a person needs to apply on the Platform (Form D-1), with particulars of applicant, prescribed fee and a prototype of the drone.13 The proposal is then examined by the Quality Council of India ("QCI") or an authorised testing entity. The test report is then submitted along with its recommendations to the DG within sixty days from the date of receipt of the application, who on being satisfied with the recommendations, shall issue to the applicant a type certificate for the specific type of drone within fifteen days of receiving such test report.14
The drone needs to comply with certain mandatory safety features, which will be notified by the Central Government later. The Rules indicatively provide for the following safety features, which may be included by the Central Government:
(a) 'No Permission – No Takeoff' ("NPNT") hardware and firmware;
(b) Real-time tracking beacon that communicates the drone's location, altitude, speed and unique identification number; and
(c) Geo-fencing capability.15
The Rules provide a six-month period for compliance from the date of notification of the safety features by the Central Government.16
5. Drone Registration
In addition to Drone Certification, the Rules mandate the registration of individual drones on the Platform and obtaining a Unique Identification Number ("UIN")17. UIN can be generated by completing Form D-218 on the Platform, along with the prescribed fee19 and requisite details including the unique number of the type certificate to which such UAS conforms. The Rules mandate a person, who owns a drone, manufactured in India or imported into India on or before the 30th day of November 2021, to make within thirty-one days falling after the said date, an application for a UIN.20
Each UIN of a drone shall be linked to the unique serial number provided by the manufacturer and the unique serial numbers of its flight control module and ground control station.21 The Rules have also prescribed procedures for the transfer22 and Deregistration of Drones.23
6. Drone Operations
The Rules give power to the Central Government to segregated the entire airspace of India into 3 zones- Red, Yellow and Green zones.24 The Central Government can update the airspace map on the Platform for drone operations from time to time to change the status of an area from one zone to another. However, such change shall not come into effect before expiry seven days after the date of such update.25
The three zones have been defined as follows:
Green Zone (Permissible Zone)
- the airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of India, upto a vertical distance of 400 feet or 120 metres that has not been designated as a red zone or yellow zone in the airspace map for UAS operations; and
- the airspace upto a vertical distance of 200 feet or 60 metres above the area located between a lateral distance of 8 kilometre and 12 kilometres from the perimeter of an operational airport.
Yellow zone (Intermediate zone)
- The airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of India within which UAS operations are restricted and shall require permission from the concerned air traffic control authority.
The airspace above 400 feet or 120 metres in the designated green zone and the airspace above 200 feet or 60 metres in the area located between the lateral distance of 8 kilometres and 12 kilometres from the perimeter of an operational airport.
Red Zone (No-Fly Zone)
The airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of India, or any installation or notified port limits specified by the Central Government beyond the territorial waters of India, within which UAS operations shall be permitted only by the Central Government. 26
The Rules prohibit the operation of a drone in a red zone or yellow zone without prior permission. However, no such provision is required in the Green Zone.27
The airspace map segregating the airspace of India into the aforementioned zones will be published on the Platform by the Central Government.28 Interestingly, airspace map shall be programmatically accessible through a machine-readable Application Programming Interface ("API") and interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone(s) within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval.29 It is mandatory for a drone pilot, to check the Platform before commencing a drone operation for any restriction applicable to drone operations in the intended area of operation. 30
The Rules also create a self-reporting mechanism, which mandates the reporting of an accident involving the drones, within 48 hours to the DG through the Platform.31 An accident has been defined as any incident associated with the operation of a UAS in which a person is fatally or seriously injured or where the unmanned aircraft system sustains significant damage or goes missing or is completely inaccessible.32
7. Remote Pilot License
Notably, the Rules restrict the operation of a drone by any person other than a holder of a valid Remote Pilot Licence (RPL) enlisted on the Platform.33 An RPL is not required for a person operating a nano drone34 or operating a micro drone for non-commercial purposes.35
In order to be eligible for the RPL the following criteria need to be fulfilled:
(a) not less than eighteen years of age and not more than sixty five years of age;
(b) have passed class tenth or its equivalent examination from a recognised Board;
(c) have completed the training prescribed by the DG for the applicable class of remote pilot licence from an authorised remote pilot training organisation.36
If a person, fulfils the aforementioned criteria, he can obtain an RPL after completing the training specified by the DG for such category, sub-category or class of UAS for which the person requires an RPL and passing the tests conducted by the authorised remote pilot training organisation.37 Within 7 days of passing the test, the person can make an application on form D-4 through the Platform.38 The RPL shall be valid for a period of 10 years after which it can be renewed again.39 The Rules also require the holder of RPL to undergo such refresher course as may be specified by the DG on the Platform from time to time.
The Rules require third party insurance of drones for compensation in case of damage to life and/or property caused by a UAS/drone. Insurance cover has to be taken in accordance with Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and rules made thereunder, which shall apply mutatis mutandis. 40
9. Offences & Penalties
Any contravention of the Rules is a punishable offence under the Rules.41 However, the Rules have created a defence, in case any contravention or failure to comply with the Rules is proved to have been caused due to factors or circumstances, such as the stress of weather or other unavoidable cause or circumstances, beyond the control of such person or without his knowledge or fault.42
In addition to this, any contravention may attract a penalty of up to a maximum of one lakh rupees under Section 10A Aircraft Act, 1934.43 Furthermore, the Rules also provide for cancellation or suspension of any licence, certificate, authorisation or approval granted under these Rules by the DG in case of contravention of the Rules.44
The Rules are one of a kind in Indian law and are a fine blend between regulation and liberalisation. They are aided by the digital sky platform, which provides for a one-stop-shop to carry out all compliances under the Rules, thereby reducing the red tape in regulation and obtaining permissions/licenses. This will thus provide a huge boost to innovation and business in India, especially to the logistics industry. However, the extent of success of this experiment of Indian Law with self-regulation and non-intrusive monitoring will depend on effective airspace mapping with regular updates and functionality of the Platform, which will remain the responsibility of the Government.
2. Rule 2(1)
3. Rule 2(3)
4. Rule 3(g)
5. Rule 3(i)
6. Rule 3(zb)
7. Rule 2(2)
8. Rule 5
9. Rule 2(2)
10. Rule 8
11. Rule 6
12. Rule 13
13. Rule 9(1)
14. Rules 9(2) and 9(3)
15. Rule 12(1)
16. Rule 12(2)
17. Rule 14(1)
18. Rule 15(1)
19. Rule 46
20. Rule 16(1)
21. Rule 15(3)
22. Rule 17
23. Rule 18
24. Rule 19
25. Rule 23
26. Rule 2(l)
27. Rule 22
28. Rule 19
29. Rule 21
30. Rule 20
31. Rule 30
32. Rule 3(b)
33. Rule 31
34. Rule 36(a)
35. Rule 36(b)
36. Rule 33
37. Rule 34(1)
38. Rule 34(2)
39. Rule 35
40. Rule 44
41. Rule 49(1)
42. Rule 49(3)
43. Rule 50
44. Rule 53
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.