On 25 August 2021, the Indian Government introduced the Drone Rules 2021 (New Rules) in a swift response to the industry feedback in relation to onerous red tape that was present in the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (Old Rules). By introducing the New Rules within five months of introduction Old Rules, the Government impliedly acknowledged that the Old Rules would deter the dynamic and exceptional growth anticipated in the drone industry. The present article analyses the New Rules which are being touted as a paradigm change affecting the future of the drone industry.

Key features of the Drone Rules:

I. Application

The New Rules apply to (i) drones registered or operating in India and (ii) persons who own, possess, engage in leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining drones in India. The New Rules shall not apply to drones belonging to or used by naval, military and air forces. The New Rules further clarify that the Aircraft Rules 1937 would not apply upon any Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) except for a UAS with maximum all-up-weight of more than 500 kilograms.

II. Classification and Certification

The New Rules provide a detailed matrix for determining the category1, sub-category2 and classification based on maximum weight including payload3 of drones. Based on this matrix, each drone operating in India is required to obtain a type certification and unique identification number. Interestingly, such type certification is not required for manufacturing or importing drones in India.

III. Mandatory Safety Features

Rule 12 of the New Rules state that the Central Government may in future prescribe certain mandatory safety features to be installed on a UAS which may include, among others, features like – (i) no permission – no take-off hardware and firmware, (ii) real-time beacon communicating the drone's speed, altitude, and unique identification number, and (iii) geo-fencing capability.

IV. Digital Sky Platform

In order to minimise human interface and delay attributable to the bureaucratic procedures, the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation devised what is called the digital sky platform. The digital sky platform serves as a single-window for registration of drones and generating approvals automatically. The nodal officers of State Governments, Union Territory Administrations and law enforcement agencies shall be provided direct access to the digital sky platform. The New Rules require every drone to conform to certain standards prescribed by the Quality Council of India for obtaining an airworthiness certificate. The standards may promote the use of indigenous technologies, designs, components and drones; and Indian regional navigation satellite system namely Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).

V. Classification of Zones and Traffic Management

The New Rules categorise the airspace in green, yellow, and red zones. Drones are allowed to operate in green zone without any permission. However, for yellow and red zones, drones would require permits to fly. The Central Government shall within sixty days of the date of notification of New Rules, publish a policy framework in respect of Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management System (UTM System) on the digital sky platform.4 The UTM System shall enable traffic management of drones through air, ground, or space-based communication, navigation, and surveillance.

VI. Reduced Compliance Requirements

The New Rules make a fundamental change in terms of reducing the lengthy list of compliances as seen under the Old Rules. This appears to be in response to the comments and criticism received by various stakeholders across the industry. The New Rules under Rule 30 prescribe a nominal fee structure for the services rendered by the Central Government. The fee for authorisation or renewal of authorisation of remote pilot training organisation has been kept at INR 1000. While the rest of the services are listed at a fee of INR 100.5

VII. Remote Pilot License

The New Rules mandate that no individual other than a holder of a valid remote pilot license enlisted on the digital sky platform shall operate a UAS. A remote pilot license shall specifically set out the details of the category, sub-category, and classification of the UAS for which it is issued. However, (i) nano drones for all uses, and (ii) micro drones for non-commercial use are exempted from the requirement of a remote pilot license.6

VIII. Research, Development, and Testing

The New Rules exempt certain persons engaged in research, development and testing of UAS' from the requirements of a type certificate, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot licence for operating UAS. However, the research activities envisaged under the New Rules must be conducted in a green zone or an open area under such person's control.7

XI. Offences, Classification and Compounding

The New Rules prescribe penalties for offences committed in contravention of the provisions set out in the New Rules. The offences range from unauthorised operation of UAS to carrying arms and ammunitions on UAS. The procedure for compounding the offences and levying penalty has been delineated under Rules 49 and 50 of the New Rules.8


The rapid response to industry feedback and timing of the New Rules demonstrates the Government's commitment to fostering the untapped potential of drone technology.

The New Rules usher in ease of regulation. The Government has slashed the number of forms to be filled to operate a drone to one fifth of the number under the Old Rules and reduced the fee structure for its services to a nominal level.9 The New Rules are based on a "premise of trust, self-certification and non-intrusive monitoring". They focus on developing drone corridors for cargo deliveries and setting up of a drone promotion council. Drone operations in green zones require no permission.

With a clear focus on scaling up this industry, the cabinet has recently approved an INR 1.2 billion production linked incentive scheme for drones and drone production. The scheme is expected to bring fresh investments of over INR 5 billion and incremental production of INR 1.5 billion. This is one more baby step towards making India a global drone hub by 2030.

Interestingly, this commitment has not been derailed by unfortunate attacks or potential national security risks. In fact, there is lack of consistency between yellow zone under the New Rules and bird activity sterile zone mandated by ICAO. Yellow zones (which require ATC clearance) have been reduced drastically from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter freeing up more space for green zones. This is peculiar and may be step too far considering that the bird activity sterile zone is mandated by ICAO at 13 km in radius of aerodrome reference point. It is yet to be seem how growing drone usage and potential misuse (from a national security and public order perspective) will be balanced.

However, unlike the Old Rules, there is no reference of intrusion of individual's privacy due to extensive use of drone technologies. Notably, other jurisdictions like EU have dealt with this issue by requiring impact assessment similar to the General Data Protection Regulation before operation. The legislative framework for data protection and privacy is at a nascent stage in India with the proposed bill on this subject still being deliberated by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. It is likely that this aspect will develop in the future and aspects of privacy will be addressed by incorporating appropriate references to data protection and privacy laws.


1. Rule 4(1) of the Drone Rules 2021. These include three broad categories: (i) aeroplane, (ii) rotorcraft and (iii) hybrid unmanned aircraft system.

2. Rule 4 (2) of the Drone Rules 2021. These include three sub-categories: (i) remotely piloted aircraft system, (ii) model remotely piloted aircraft system and (iii) autonomous unmanned aircraft system.

3. Rule 5 of the Drone Rules 2021. These include: (i) nano (less than or equal to 250 grams), (ii) micro (more than 250 g but less than or equal to 2 kg), (iii) small (more than 2 kg but less than or equal to 25 kg), (iv) medium (more than 25 kg but less than or equal to 150 kg), and (v) large (greater than 150 kg).

4. Rule 27 of the Drone Rules 2021.

5. Rule 46 of the Drone Rules 2021.

6. Part VI of the Drone Rules 2021.

7. Rule 42 of the Drone Rules 2021.

8. Rule 49 of the Drone Rules 2021.

9. The number of forms prescribed in the New Rules has been reduced from 25 (twenty-five) to 5 (five) and fee categories have been reduced from 72 (seventy-two) to 4 (four).

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.