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Govt notifies draft drone rules which set the stage for remote drone operations; comments invited till July 3

drone, france, India

The Ministry of Civil Aviation has published the draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020, and the rules look set to allow beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, and bring drone traders under its ambit. The draft rules also propose establishing dedicated drone ports and corridors in “permitted areas if warranted by the nature and requirements” of drone operations, although separate licenses will have to be obtained from the regulator for those, yet unspecified, permitted areas. A drone can capture images as long as it is not flying over non-permissible areas, and after “ensuring the privacy of an individual and his property”, per the draft. MediaNama has seen a copy of the draft.

The draft was notified on June 4, and comments can be submitted to the Civil Aviation Ministry till one month. The rules are an effort to form dedicated regulation around drone usage, as they are currently regulated as per provisions under the Aircraft Act. “It is a great step towards identifying the drone industry as an important part that will contribute to the Indian Economy. However, the regulators and the industry need to keep working hand-in-hand to operationalize these rules and regularise drone activity in India as soon as possible,” industry body Drone Federation of India said in a statement.

What the draft drone rules say

Licence for UTM service providers: The DGCA “may also establish an Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management System in  the Indian airspace”, and provide UTM service providers a license for this, which is a key requirement for carrying out BVLOS operations, such as delivery or remote surveillance. BVLOS drones can be controlled remotely. UTMs are necessary for BVLOS drone operations as they are essentially an air traffic management system for drones, except that they are an automated tool. UTMs automatically collect information about flight details, and vicinity of drones in an airspace to avoid collisions, among other things.

Deliveries via drones still unclear: While the rules have cleared the ground for BVLOS operations, it isn’t clear if they allow for food delivery, or delivery of any kind, using drones. The draft said: “No Unmanned Aircraft [drone] shall carry any payload, save, as specified by the Director-General”. Items that a drone carries are considered a payload and this could include delivery packages as well. However, the rules do say that carrying such payloads is prohibited until specified by the DGCA, meaning that the regulator could possibly allow for delivery via drones at a later date. The draft rules prohibit dropping of any payload while a drone is in motion “except in a manner and procedure as specified by the Director-General”.

Read: DGCA has permitted at least 10 entities to pilot remote drone surveillance, delivery

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Drone ports will need authorisation and a licence from DGCA: Drone ports can not be used for the arrival, departure, surface movement and associated maintenance or commercial activities of drones unless they have been allowed by the DGCA for that purpose. Private individuals and entities will have to obtain a license from the DGCA to operate such ports. “If considered necessary, Director-General may obtain clearance from security angle of the applicant, including directors in case of corporate bodies or other persons in top management positions, from the concerned authority,” the draft said. However, government bodies and agencies don’t require any such clearance. A drone port authorisation for temporary operations of drones will be issued by DGCA for a maximum of 3 months, while DGCA’s license to such ports will last for 5 years.

Rules require various stakeholders in the drone ecosystem to obtain licenses from DGCA: The draft encompasses all types of drones, including remotely piloted drones and automated drones, and limits the import of manufacture of drones to only those entities that have been certified by the Director General of Civil Aviation by means of a specific license. Current drone regulations, which are a part of the Aircraft Act, only require a drone and an operator to obtain a license. The rules also include drone traders in its ambit, and this is a new category of stakeholder that has been identified in these draft rules. No person other than an “Authorised UAS Trader” shall engage in buying or selling or leasing of a UAS or a part or a component thereof in India, per the draft.

  • There will be a “Certificate of Manufacture” for drones that are either manufactured in India or imported. This certificate will be issued by testing laboratories or organisations approved by the DGCA. Manufacturers and importers will be allowed to choose the labs at which they wish to get their drones tested. Testing laboratories will have to submit a test report and recommendations to the DGCA, based on which it may issue the certificates. This will not apply to drones weighing more than 300 kilograms as these drones will be regulated as per the Aircraft Act.

Central govt can exempt anyone from adhering to the rules: The central government  has the authority to exempt any drone or class of drones, or any person from adhering to these rules. Such exemptions can be given “in general” or though a “special written order”.

NPNT still a must: The no permission no take off (NPNT) protocol is still mandatory for all categories of drones, except nano type. In fact, a drone manufacture will only be awarded a license by the DGCA if their drones are NPNT compliant. The NPNT hardware and firmware shall be tamper proof, the draft said.

Mandates insurance of drones: No drone can be operated in India without having a valid third party insurance policy to cover the liability that may arise during mishaps, causing death or bodily injury to any person or damage to property.

UIN for drones mandatory: No drone can be owned or operated in India unless it has been allotted a Unique Identification Number (UIN), which will be issued by the DGCA.

Drones need a ‘maintenance manual’: It is mandatory for every manufacturer and importer of drones to supply a “maintenance manual” containing the maintenance requirements and procedures, and to provide necessary training for the maintenance personnel authorised to undertake such maintenance. The maintenance manual will be a part of the documents pertaining to the drone, and will have to be provided as part of the mandatory sale documents to any authorised trader, owner or operator. This will not apply to drones weighing more than 300 kilograms as these drones will be regulated as per the Aircraft Act.

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Classification of drones: The draft rules propose to classify drones in five categories:

  • Nano: Less than or equal to 250 gram;
  • Micro: Greater than 250 gram and less than or equal to 2 kilogram
  • Small: Greater than 2 kilogram and less than or equal to 25 kilogram
  • Medium: Greater than 25 kilogram and less than or equal to 150 kilogram
  • Large: Greater than 150 kilogram.

Nano drones will be regarded in the next higher category if they exceed either of the following performance parameters:

  • Maximum speed in level flight limited to 15 meters/second
  • Maximum attainable height limited to 15 meters and range limited to 100 meter from the remote pilot.

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