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The Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, vide notification dated August 25, 2021, has issued the new Drone Rules, 2021 (“Drone Rules”) in supersession of the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (“UAS Rules”). Interestingly, the UAS Rules came into effect on March 15, 2021 after over 9 months of deliberation but were shortly put under public consultation for all stakeholders, after which the draft of Drone Rules were published on July 15, 2021.
Now in force, the Drone Rules seek to govern all persons owning, possessing or engaged in leasing, operating, transferring or maintaining an unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) in India except UAS used by the Indian naval, military or air forces. Taking inspiration from the UAS Rules, the Drone Rules classify a UAS basis the maximum all-up weight including payload which helps differentiate the kind of approvals and licenses its usage would require –
Keeping in mind the above classification, some of the important regulatory aspects delivered by the Drone Rules are summarized below –
Although no prior permission is required for operating a UAS in the Green Zone, prior permission is necessary to operate UAS in the yellow and red zone. Failure to obtain such permission would constitute a cognizable and non-compoundable offence. Additionally under Rule 19, the Central Government is expected to publish an airspace map for UAS operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red zone, yellow zone and green zone, with a horizontal resolution. It is further expected that the said map would be programmatically accessible so that the operator of the UAS can plot their proposed flight plan in order to ascertain whether any prior approval is required or not.
Significant prohibitions enlisted under the Drone Rules are:
The Drone Rules also streamline the penalties levied on individuals and organisations operating a UAS. Rule 50 levies a maximum penalty of INR 100,000 in the event any operator fails to comply with the provisions of the Drone Rules. Previously, the UAS Rules enumerated different quantum of penalties for different offences and each such penalty was accordingly identified; however, such categorisation of penalties has now been done away with.
The UAS Rules provided for a complex regulatory mechanism which contained over 25 different types of permissions which are now streamlined and condensed into 5 under the Drone Rules. For example, previously, each UAS operator was required to obtain different levels of permit depending upon the class of the UAS, however, the said bifurcation has now been abolished. The Drone Rules, unlike the UAS Rules, do not adopt certain safety features like ‘No permission – no takeoff’ (NPNT) and real-time tracking beacon, however it is expected that the same would be notified by the Central Government subsequently. It is further expected that the Government would be issuing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Training Procedure Manuals (TPM) by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation on the digital sky platform for self-monitoring by operators. The Central Government is also looking to relax restriction on carrying of Nano UAS on domestic flights in India, which is currently prohibited. Given that drones are now instrumental in almost all industries including agriculture, information technology and transportation, the Drone Rules could enable non-intrusive monitoring and a self-regulatory mechanism for all kinds of operators of UAS in India.
 Drone Rules, 2021 notified on August 25, 2021 available at https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2021/229221.pdf
 Circular IRDA/CIR/MISC/031/02/2021 available at - https://www.irdai.gov.in/ADMINCMS/cms/Circulars_Layout.aspx?page=PageNo4375&flag=1
 Press Note, Press Information Bureau ‘Ministry of Civil Aviation notifies liberalised Drone Rules, 2021’ available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1749154
 Times of India, ‘Govt may soon allow you to carry nano drones on domestic flights’ September 4, 2021 available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/govt-mulling-to-allow-small-drone-cameras-on-domestic-flights/articleshow/85931719.cms