India gets its first drone policy: All you need to know about Drone Regulations 1.0

The regulations are intended to enable visual line-of-sight, daytime-only drone flight operations.

Government of India's Ministry of Civil Aviation announced guidelines on Monday for remotely piloted aircraft — or drones as they are more commonly known — which will come into effect from 1 December, aiming to open up an array of opportunities in the Indian civil aviation sector.

Unveiling the "Drone Regulations 1.0" in New Delhi, Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said that the guidelines would help foster technology and innovation in the development of drones — devices which have an extensive range of applications ranging from disaster relief to agriculture.

"The drone market in India holds the potential of hitting over $1 trillion. We plan to develop drone manufacturing not only for the domestic market but abroad as well," Prabhu said, adding that India's expertise in technology is characterised by its capacity to devise low-cost solutions. The minister said that these drone regulations had taken so long to be formed because of various safety and security issues that needed to be sorted out.

His ministry, however, stated three specific reasons for these regulations to have taken so long to be formulated:

  • Drone technologies have been evolving very rapidly.
  • Many countries are still experimenting with their drone regulations and no ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) stands have been developed.
  • India's security environment necessitates extra precautions.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said that Drone Regulations 1.0 have been formulated as an "all digital process" that will become effective from 1 December, which is when the "Digital Sky" platform will become operative.

Here's everything you need to know about the new government regulations for drones:

'All-digital platform'

As Sinha also pointed out, the new Digital Sky platform will be the first-of-its-kind national unmanned traffic management (UTM) platform that implements a 'no permission, no takeoff' system for remotely piloted aircraft.

Users will be required to make one-time registration of their drones, pilots and owners on the platform, which will also allow for online filing of a drone's specific flight path and use.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

"For every flight, users will be required to ask for permission to fly on a mobile app and an automated process permits or denies the request instantly. To prevent unauthorised flights and to ensure public safety, any drone without a digital permit to fly will simply not be able to takeoff," the ministry said.

The UTM platform operates as a traffic regulator in the drone airspace and coordinates closely with the defence and civilian air traffic controllers (ATCs) to ensure that drones remain on approved flight paths.

"The regulations are intended to enable visual line-of-sight, daytime-only and a maximum of 400-feet altitude flight operations," Sinha said. These limitations are not likely to last very long, as a committee called the Drone Task Force will work to expand the Indian regulations to meet global standards.

The Drone Task Force

A Drone Task Force, under the chairmanship of Sinha, will provide draft recommendations for the next series of regulations — the Drone Regulations 2.0. According to the ministry, these upcoming regulations will deal with, among other things, the following issues:

  • Certification of safe and controlled operation of drone hardware and software
  • Airspace management through automated operations linked into overall airspace management framework
  •  Beyond visual-line-of-sight operations
  • Contribution to establishing global standards.
  • Suggestions for modifications of existing CARs (civil aviation requirements) and/or new CARs.

Operational requirements

The new regulations have categorised drones into five separate types, on the basis of their weight. The rules that apply for the drones will depend on the weight class that they fall into, which begin from under 250 grams and extend to over 150 kilograms. The five types are nano, micro, small, medium and large.

Other than nano, all other categories of drones need to be registered with the government and issued with a Unique Identification Number (UIN). Drones owed by central intelligence agencies do not have this requirement as well, not surprisingly.

Beyond these permissions, an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) is also required for drone operators, except for nano-drones operating below 50 feet and micro-drones operating below 200 feet.

Airspace, too, has been divided by the government into different zones. Here's what they indicate:

  • Red Zone: Flying not permitted
  • Yellow Zone: Controlled airspace — permission required before flying
  • Green Zone: Uncontrolled airspace — automatic permission

Beyond these, there are also specific regions around the country that have been marked as 'No Drone Zones'. Some of these No Drone Zones that have been defined are areas around airports, those near the international border, Vijay Chowk in New Delhi, State Secretariat Complex in state capitals and what the ministry called "strategic locations/vital and military installations".

Representational image. Pixabay

Representational image. Pixabay

As of now, drones are allowed to operate within visual line of sight, during daytime only, and up to a maximum altitude of 400 feet.

The FAQs released by the ministry also specify that delivery of items using drones is "not allowed as of now". Government agencies, however, can use drones for making deliveries, Sinha said.

Necessary equipment on board

The mandatory equipment required for operation of drones — except those which fall into the nano category — are:

  • GNSS — Global Navigation Satellite System
  • Return-To-Home (RTH) feature
  • Anti-collision light
  • ID-Plate
  • Flight controller with flight data logging capability
  • Radio Frequency ID and SIM/ No-Permission No Take off (NPNT)

To deal with non-compliance

In addition to the multiple checks and balances put in place for drone operators, the government will also enforce punitive action against those who do not comply with these new regulations after 1 December.

  • The following enforcement actions have been stated by the civil aviation ministry
  • Suspension or cancellation of UIN/ UAOP in case of violation of regulatory provisions
  • Actions as per relevant Sections of the Aircraft Act 1934, or Aircraft Rules, or any statutory provisions
  • Penalties as per applicable sections in the Indian Penal Code (such as 287, 336, 337, 338, or other relevant sections in the IPC)

'New chapter in Indian aviation'

Hailing the list of government regulations for drones, Prabhu said, "Today we start an exciting new chapter in India's aviation history by allowing commercial use of drones. I am sure that many new and exciting applications will emerge that will propel India's economy forward. Our progressive regulations will encourage a vast Made in India drone industry."

His deputy, Sinha, believes that these regulations will place the country among the global leaders in drone technology.

He said, "We want to establish a world-leading drone ecosystem. These regulations firmly place us among the global leaders. Our policy roadmap will certainly provide a strong impetus to all players in the drone ecosystem. We hope that these initiatives will enable unto create a vibrant new industry."

With inputs from the Indo-Asian News Service

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