Following the draft rules on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”/ “Drones”) that were released by the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (“MoCA”) in June 2020 (“Draft UAS Rules”), the MoCA has now notified the final Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (“UAS Rules”). This clears the way for India’s latest drone rules, superseding the earlier Drone Legislation of December 2018 (“Earlier Guidelines”).
Any of the main features of the UAS Rules, which will now restrict the civil use of drones in India, are discussed below. The new provisions apply to all persons seeking to own or possess, or seeking to engage in importing, exporting, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining a UAS in India. Foreigners are currently not allowed to fly drones in India.
For commercial purposes, they need to lease the drone to an Indian entity who in-turn will obtain Unique Identification Number (UIN) and UAOP (Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit) from DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation). The No Permission No Take Off (NPNT) system has been retained from the 2018 rules, and it will be a requirement of attaining a certificate of manufacture that a drone be able to integrate into the NPNT system. In addition, the new rules mandate third party insurance for all drones. Also, all drones must have a Unique Identification Number (UIN).
What are the UAS categories?
Nano Drones: For drones weighing less than or equal to 250 grams, no license or permit is needed.
Micro or Small Drones: To fly a drone weighing more than 250 grams and less than or equal to 25 kilograms, whether for commercial or recreational purposes, you need the UAS Operator Permit-I (UAOP-I). This permit mandates that the pilot follows the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prepared by an authorized UAS operator and accepted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The operations must be limited to visual line of sight and the drone must not carry any dangerous goods. In fact, drone delivery of any kind should not be attempted with UAOP-I.
Medium and Large Drones: For any operation that requires a drone weighing more than 25 kilograms, you need the UAS Operator Permit-II (UAOP-II). Here also, all operations must be conducted in accordance with the Operations Manual prepared by an authorized UAS operator and approved by the DGCA. You will also need a Safety Management System in place, and take prior clearance from Air Traffic and Air Defence Control. In this category, carriage of dangerous goods, BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) operations, and drone deliveries are allowed – subject to clearance by the DGCA, of course.
What are the Drone Flying Restrictions in India:
No Micro drone shall fly beyond a height of 60 meters above ground level (AGL) or a maximum speed of 25 meters per second (m/s).
No Small drone shall fly beyond a height of 120 meter AGL or a maximum speed of 25 m/s.
Medium or Large drones shall fly in accordance with the conditions specified in the Operator Permit issued by the DGCA.
Prohibited areas are strictly off-limits, while for restricted areas, prior permission from the DGCA is required.
Flight Permission & Log
Except for the Nano category, all drone operations shall take place only after prior permission has been received for a flight or series of flights through the Digital Sky online platform. The drone operator will also ensure that the aircraft stays within the defined area for which permission was obtained and furnish a log of each flight through the online platform.
How do these new laws affect hobbyists?
The higher price point for a beginner drone, on the other hand, would not be the only obstacle to entry for a hobbyist. A week-long training program costing upwards of INR 25,000 is required to fly any drone weighing more than 250 gm for recreational purposes.
Two independent pilot permit applications must be sent to the DGCA, one as a student and the other as an operator following completion of the training. To license both the drone and the drone owner with the authorities, two additional applications must be submitted.
Even after all of this, you can’t simply wake up in a hotel one morning and try to photograph your holiday from the air. You must also obtain prior authorization from the DGCA, specifically stating the region in which you wish to travel. And how do you go about obtaining this permission? via the same non-functioning web portal.
What are the Penalties for Illegal Drone Flying in India?
- Except for Nano category drones, any individual who operates a drone without a valid license or permit shall have to pay a fine of INR 25,000.
- Flying over no-operation zones will attract a fine of INR 50,000.
- Drone flying without valid third-party insurance will be subject to a fine of INR 10,000.
- Also, it will attract penal action under relevant IPC sections 287, 336, 337, 338 under Aircraft Act 194 and Aircraft Rules.
What is the NPNT system?
NPNT or ‘No Permission No Take-off’ is a concept controlling RPA or any unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) usage and traffic. This is released by DGCA India. The drone user has to register himself with an UAOP and the drone with UIN. Then install a mobile app to get permission for each drone flying.
- No drone (Except Nano drone) will be able to fly without specifying to the DGCA its:
- Intended flight envelope
- Total flight time
- User credentials
How does the NPNT system work?
First, the user has to install the Digital Sky App provided by DGCA. Next, he/she must submit the pilot/user registration number with all the details. They have to then submit their drones UIN number with all the details. All the details like UIN, UAOP and the current location will transmit to the server.
The server checks whether it’s in the green zone, yellow zone or red zone. Air space has been partitioned into Red Zone (flying not permitted), Yellow Zone (controlled airspace), and Green Zone (automatic permission).
Next, the user must verify the other exceptional entries for no permission and the UIN, UAOP validity and simultaneously ask for permission. Once granted, the user is free to fly his/her drone within the guidelines provided.
What are the views of Industry leaders as well as hobbyists on the new laws?
Insiders in the industry and advocacy organisations who have been working with the DGCA on changes and enhancements to the 2018 regulations believe the government has completely ignored them. The dilemma is not only that the DGCA has dismissed their recommendations, but that the current regulations have introduced even more levels of procedural complexities. The simplicity of doing business has been harmed even further by implementing a multi-level, multi-license scheme.
About the Author – Aditya Pratap
Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practising in Mumbai. He argues cases in the Bombay High Court, Sessions and Magistrate Courts, along with appearances before RERA, NCLT and the Family Court. For further information one may visit his website adityapratap.in or view his YouTube Channel to see his interviews. Questions can be emailed to him at email@example.com.
This Article was made by Aditya Pratap in assistance with Ishaan Dhaddha.
Cases argued by Aditya Pratap can be viewed here.