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Drone laws in India: What are the rules?

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New Delhi, July 01: In a recent high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was decided that a comprehensive policy on drones would be framed. The move came following a drone attack on the IAF air base in Jammu. Following this drones had been spotted for three days in row in Jammu and Kashmir and experts had termed this as a new phenomenon which has to be tackled at the earliest.

Drone laws in India: What are the rules?

While terrorists have started using drones to carry out attacks and even drop of arms and ammunition, the drones are also utilised for photography, spraying of insecticides over a field and installing sensor in the deep jungles. The government had regulated the use of drones under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021. Let us take a look at the regulations on drones in India.

The drones have been classified into Nano, Micro and Small and Medium and Large. The nano drones are those which fails under the category of less than or equal to 250 grams. The rules say that these drones need no licence or permit.

The micro and small drones weighing above 250 grams but less than 2 kilograms require a UAS Permit for all flying purposes. The drone pilots will have to follow the Standard Operating Procedures as accepted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. This permit would be limited to the visual line of sight without any payload.

Drones weighing more than 25 kilograms but less than 150 kilograms are classified as medium and large drones. The large drones have been classified as more than 150 kilograms. For the operation both category of drones require UAS Operator Permit-II.

Drone flying restrictions in India:

The Centre can exempt exempt any Ministry, Department, or a government-affiliated agency - at both the central and state level - from the requirements of a drone operator permit if it is national interest or helps to uphold the security of the country.

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.

UAS Rules 2021: Key highlights:

  • UAS categorised as airplane, rotorcraft and hybrid with further categorisation as remotely piloted aircraft, model remotely piloted aircraft and autonomous unmanned aircraft system.
  • UAS classified as nano, micro, small, medium and large unmanned aircraft based on the maximum all up weight including its pay load ranging from
  • Mandatory for individuals and companies to obtain approval from the DGCA to import, manufacture, trade, own or operate drones
  • No Permission- No Take-off (NPNT) policy adopted for all UAS except for those in the nano category
    Micro and small UAS are not permitted from flying above 60m and 120 m, respectively.
  • All UAS, except nano category, have to be equipped with flashing anti-collision strobe lights, flight data logging capability, secondary surveillance radar transponder, real-time tracking system and 360 degree collision avoidance system, among others.
  • All UAS including nano category, are required to be equipped with Global Navigation Satellite System, Autonomous Flight Termination System or Return to Home option, geo-fencing capability and flight controller, among others.
  • UAS prohibited from flying in strategic and sensitive location, including near airports, defence airports, border areas, military installations/facilities and areas earmarked as strategic locations/vital installations by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Nano, micro and small UAS operations limited to within the visual line of sight and are prohibited from delivery of goods.
  • Delivery of goods permitted by medium and large UAS.
  • Research and development (R&D) organisations, including start-ups, authorised UAS manufacturer, any accredited recognised institution of higher education located in India, are permitted to carry out R&D of
  • UAS only after obtaining authorisation from the DGCA.
  • Penalties ranging between rupees ten thousand and one lakh for individuals, and for organisations, a 200, 300 and 400% of the amount specified for individuals, based on the size of the organisation.

What are the drone rules in India:

S.No. Provisions Proposed Rule
Definitions Introduced
1. Geo-fencing Geo-fencing is defined as the restriction of movement of UAS within a defined virtual space for a real-world geographic location using the global positioning system or radio frequency identification to define three dimensional geographical boundaries.4 The Rules require all UAS to be equipped with geo-fencing capabilities.5
2. Drone Swarm Drone Swarm has been defined as a fleet of unmanned aircraft either in communication with one another or with remote control and deployed together in order to accomplish a common objective, controlled either autonomously or by a remote control.6 The Rules prohibit a UAS, apart from micro and nano UAS, from operating as a part of a drone swarm.
3. Prototype Unmanned Aircraft System Prototype UAS is one that is developed for the purpose of research and development or for obtaining a certificate of manufacture and airworthiness.7 A prototype UAS cannot be manufactured or imported without prior permission from the DGCA.8
Categorisation of UAS
4. Categorisation of UAS UAS is first categorised on the basis of flight, including the following:9
  1. Aeroplane: Power driven UAS deriving its lift in flight chiefly from aerodynamic reactions and is heavier than an aircraft.10
  2. Rotorcraft: UAS which is heavier than an aircraft which derives flight through reactions of power driven rotors.11
  3. Hybrid UAS: UAS deriving flight through engine power and is capable of vertical take-off, vertical landing, and low-speed flight.
The categorization of UAS as aeroplane/rotocraft/hybrid is only required to be mentioned while obtaining a remote pilot license. However, it doesn't have any significance or impact beyond this and the Rules similarly apply to all categories of UAS.
5. Subsequent categorisation of UAS The UAS can be further categorized as follows:12
  1. Remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS): a UAS with a remote pilot. All Rules apply to RPAS.
  2. Model remotely piloted aircraft system: these are RPAS with a maximum weight of 25kg, used for education purpose only and flown within visual line of sight. These can only be flown within the premises of the owner or at designated test sites, and within the premises they are restricted up to a height of 15 m in uncontrolled airspace.13
Autonomous unmanned aircraft system: these are UAS that do not require pilot intervention in the management of the flight. The operations of the autonomous UAS can only take place in accordance with the conditions and in the areas specified by the DGCA.14
Authorisations
6. Eligibility To act as an unmanned aircraft system importer, manufacturer, trader, owner or operator, an authorisation is required from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The eligibility for such authorisation is as follows:15
  1. Individuals have to be a citizen of India and above 18 years of age;
  2. Companies & body corporates have to be registered in India and have their principal place of business within India; and
Association of persons or body of individuals or a local authority or any legal entity must have their principal place of business within India.
7. Security Clearance The DGCA may require an applicant to obtain a security clearance of a person, including directors in case of corporate bodies or other persons in top management positions.16 The DGCA, only after such security clearance, may grant an authorisation. No such clearance is required for Central Government and State Government or their agencies.17
8. Procedure for Authorisation for a UAS importer, manufacturer, trader, owner or operator Application has to be made to the DGCA as per Form UA-1 with a fee along with submission of the required documents.18 Only after satisfying the eligibility requirement, the security clearance and the application procedure, the DGCA will provide the applicant a unique authorisation number.19
9. Validity of Authorisation The validity period of the authorisation is up to 10 years.20
Manufacture and Import
10. Manufacture and import of prototype UAS Prior permission has to be obtained from the DGCA manufacture and import of prototype.21 The DGCA may specify any additional technical requirements for granting permission for manufacture or import.22 Upon satisfaction that the prototype UAS conforms to the requirements specified under the Rules, the DGCA will allot a unique prototype identification number which has to be affixed on each prototype.
11. Certificate of manufacture and airworthiness of UAS The certificate of manufacture and airworthiness is issued to certify that the UAS, to be manufacturer or imported, meets the specified requirements and is in a condition for safe operation.23 The DGCA may appoint a testing laboratory to carry out the testing to ascertain airworthiness and compliance with manufacturing requirements,24 and provide a certificate on the basis of the test report.25 This certification is necessary to operate any UAS in India.
12. Import of UAS Import of a UAS is only permitted after a The certificate of manufacture and airworthiness has been obtained by the importer. The DGCA may notify components eligible to be imported by an authorised importer.26 An authorised importer may apply to import in abidance with import regulations notified by the Director General of Foreign Trade27
13. Safety Oversight Mechanism An authorized unmanned aircraft system manufacturer has to comply with the requirements specified by the DGCA and is subject to inspection and safety oversight by the DGCA.28
14. Manufacture and import of same type and class of UAS Based on the certificate of manufacture and airworthiness of a particular type and class of UAS, an authorized manufacturer or importer can manufacture or import one or more UAS of same type and class of UAS.29 This implies that for manufacturing or importing UAS of the same type/class the manufacturer or importer does not have to obtain a certificate of manufacture and airworthiness multiple times.
Airworthiness Standard
15. Technical Requirements To obtain a airworthiness certificate, the applicant must ensure that the UAS is equipped with the specifications mentioned in the Rules such as GNSS, RTH, flashing strobe lights, geo facing capability, NPNT, 360 degrees collision avoidance system, etc.30
16. Approvals Equipment Type Approval from the Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing, is mandatory for de-licensed frequency band(s) and wireless operating licence is mandatory for operating in licensed frequency band(s).31
17. Test Flights Test flights of UAS may be carried out for obtaining certification, or for conducting research and development.32 Prior clearance has to be obtained from the local authority, and mandatory Air Traffic Control clearance and Air Defense Clearance from the nearest Air Traffic Control.33
Maintenance
18. Maintenance Centres Maintenance centres to be established with trained personnel to undertake maintenance of UAS.34 In addition to keeping record of maintenance and complying with safety requirements,35 the Centre has to issue a certificate of maintenance in accordance with the procedure laid down to certify the safe operation of the UAS after the repair/modification.36
Identification and Transfer of Unmanned Aircraft
19. Conditions UAS can be used operated and transferred to another individual or company if it is registered with the DGCA and a certificate of conformance has been issued by manufacturer/ importer.37
20. Unique Identification Certificate A unique identification certificate containing unique identification number (UIN), category, class, model number, manufacturer's name with serial number, etc will be issued by the DGCA.38
21. Transfer of UAS The transfer of ownership of UAS has to be approved by the DGCA. Following the transfer, the UIN will also be linked to the transferee.39
Operation
22. Operator In addition to obtaining a permit by fulfilling the standard operating procedure requirement, the operator has several responsibilities under the Rules.40 Some of them are mentioned below:
  1. provide essential and instructions to operations personnel for conducting unmanned aircraft operations.
  2. exercise operational control.
  3. ensure that UAS are flown only in permissible geographical areas.
  4. ensure maintenance of UAS to keep them airworthy and in safe condition for operation.
  5. bear the liability, if any, due to damage occurred to any person or property.
23. Flying Restrictions The UAS has to be flown at the height prescribed in the Rules or as specified in the permit issued by the DGCA.41 For instance, a micro UAS can only fly at a maximum height of 60m.
24. Student Remote Pilot License Any individual can obtain a student remote pilot license for operation of UAS, after undergoing oral examination and medical examination, and after an authorised training organisation has been satisfied with the fulfilment of the specified requirements.42 An individual, before commencing flying training for the purpose of obtaining a remote pilot license has to be in possession of a student remote pilot license.43
25. Remote Pilot License For obtaining a remote pilot license, requirements of training and examination have to be fulfilled.44 The validity of the license is 10 years, which can be renewed.45
26. Remote Pilot Instructor A remote pilot instructor has to obtain a license and undergo training.46
27. Authorised Training Organisation The training organisation must also be authorised by the DGCA.47
28. Permission for Flight No UAS, except nano class, can operate a UAS without prior permission from the DGCA.48
29. No operation areas Several areas have been added to restricted areas for drone operations. Some of the strategic ones are listed below:
  1. within a distance of 5 kilometres from the perimeter of international airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
  2. within a distance of 3 kilometres from the perimeter of any civil, private or defence airports.
  3. within 25 kilometres from international border which includes Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
  4. within 3 kilometres from perimeter of military installations/ facilities/ where military activities/ exercises are being carried out unless clearance is obtained from the local military installation/facility.
  5. within 2 kilometres from perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) unless clearance is obtained from MHA.
30. Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) license The Central Government or any organisation authorised by the Central Government can establish a UTM in the Indian airspace. The organisation has to obtain a license from the DGCA which is valid for a period of 10 years and can be renewed.49 The organisation has to submit a UTM system service manual with operational requirements, technical specifications and standards and additional requirements specified by the DGCA.
Drone Ports
31. Authorisation and eligibility Drone ports, for arrival, departure, surface movement and associated maintenance or commercial activities of compliant UAS, can only be established in permitted areas after obtaining licence and authorisation from the DGCA. The eligibility criteria to obtain a license for a drone port is the same as the criteria for obtaining authorisation for being a UAS importer, manufacturer, trader, owner or operator (mentioned in 6 above).
Research and development
32. Authorisation for R&D organisation Only an authorised R&D organisation can carry out R&D of UAS.50 Such authorisation has to be obtained from the DGCA. Only the following organisations are eligible for such authorisation:
  1. Start-ups authorised by the DPIIT;
  2. An authorised UAS manufacturer;
  3. An accredited higher education institute located in India and offering academic courses in Science and Technology; and
  4. R&D organisations of the Central and the State governments.
Such a compliance requirement of obtaining an authorisation for R&D deters innovation. In addition, placing an eligibility requirement on R&D organisations will also discourage R&D in UAS.
Insurance
33. Insurance Valid third-party insurance has to be availed to cover incidents causing death or bodily injury to any person or damage to property. Nano class is exempted from the insurance requirement.51
Miscellaneous
34. Authorisations and permits to be obtained under the Rules The following licenses permits have to be obtained by the participants of a UAS ecosystem under the Rules:
  1. Authorisations: Authorisations by importers, manufacturers, operators, owners, training organisations and R&D organisations.
  2. Licences: Student remote pilots licence, remote pilots, import license from the DGFT, UTM license, and UTM personnel license.
  3. Certificates: certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness which first requires an Equipment Type Approval for operating in de-licensed frequency bands or wireless operating license for operating in licensed frequency bands; unique identification certificates by the DGCA, certifying that a UAS is in compliance with the certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness; and radio operators certificate of proficiency and licence to be obtained by an individual applying for a student remote pilot licence before commencing flying training on medium and large UAS.
  4. Permissions: to manufacture or import prototype, UAS operator permit, to fly small, medium or large UAS to fly in enclosed premises.
Each actor in the UAS ecosystem has to approach the DGCA several times to obtain authorisations/licences, certificates and permissions. Obtaining these also have lengthy procedures laid out under the Rules. For instance, for an individual to obtain a remote pilot licence, he/she has to follow the following procedure:
  1. Obtain a student remote pilot licence for flying training by making an application to the DGCA which must entail a medical examination, an oral examination as per the syllabus specified by the DGCA, and a valid radio operators certificate of proficiency and licence.
  2. Submit a medical examination and a certificate of training and skill from an authorised training organisation, to the DGCA.
  3. Pass a remote pilot examination.
Similarly, for conducting UAS research and development, an eligible entity has to obtain the following licences:
  1. Apply for R&D licence from the DGCA.
  2. Apply for an authorised importer licence if importing a component for UAS R&D.
  3. Apply to the DGCA for import clearance for each order if there are multiple vendors.
  4. After assembling a prototype UAS, apply for a unique prototype identification number.
35. Restrictions and cancellations on license, permits etc The Rules empower the DGCA to place further restrictions on Licence, Certificate, Authorisation, Permit or Approval,52 in addition to cancellation and suspension.53 The DGCA may also preclude the exercise of licenses and permits in writing.54 This gives wide powers with the DGCA to impose any conditions or restrictions, in addition to the several existing requirements in the Rules. This creates an environment of uncertainty as applicants in the UAS ecosystem are not fully aware of the conditions that may be imposed on them.
36. Exemptions The Central Government has the power to exempt any UAS or class of UAS or any person or class of persons from the operation of the Rules, subject to conditions that may be specified.55
37. Fee for various services The rules impose a fee for granting/issuing, among others,:
  1. Authorisations to importers, manufacturers, operators, owners, training organisations and R&D organisations, ranging from INR 500 to INR 10,000.
  2. Certificate of manufacture and airworthiness, ranging from INR 1,000 to INR 10,000 from nano to large category of UAS, respectively.
  3. Permit to operate UAS, ranging from INR 2,000 to INR 25,000 from nano to large category of UAS, respectively.
Cumulatively, for obtaining several authorisations and permits, individuals and entities have to collectively pay a lot of fee to the DGCA.
38. Penalties For individuals, penalties range between rupees ten thousand and one lakh for individuals.56 For organisations, which includes a body corporate or an association of individuals, the penalties range from 200, 300 and 400% of the penalties applicable to individuals, based on the size of the organisation.57
39. Compounding of offence In lieu of a penalty, the Rules permit compounding of certain offences through the deposit of fee. The amount for compounding of offence committed range from Rupees Twenty-Five Thousand to Five Lakhs for an individual.
The amount of compounding of offences involving Nano, Micro, Small, Medium and Large unmanned aircraft is charged at the rate of 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500%, respectively, of the amount specified for the individual.
In cases where multiple classes of unmanned aircraft are involved in an offence, then, the amount of compounding is levied at the rate applicable for the highest class of unmanned aircraft.
The amount of compounding for offences committed by an organization varies with the size of the organization:
  1. for an organization up to 50 employees: 200% of compounding amount provided for individual.
  2. for an organization with 50- 200 employees: 300% compounding amount provided for individual.
  3. for an organization with over 200 employees: 400% of compounding amount provided for individual.
This can cumulatively result in a higher penalty for an entity. For instance, in a contravention, with a penalty of Rupees five lakh for an individual, which involves a large UAS, and where such contravention is committed by a large organization with over 200 employees, the penalty can go up to Rupees one crore.

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