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Fewer norms, less paperwork: Drone industry comes of age as govt releases new rules

Fewer norms, less paperwork: Drone industry comes of age as govt releases new rules

Rules allow foreign ownership in Indian drone companies whereas import of drones will be regulated by just DGFT, hence removing one layer of clearance from DGCA

The key features of the new rules, termed Drone Rules (DR) 2021, are going to benefit all stakeholders in the industry, and reduce their compliance burden. The key features of the new rules, termed Drone Rules (DR) 2021, are going to benefit all stakeholders in the industry, and reduce their compliance burden.

It's coming of age for the drone industry as the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has released a new set of rules to make India a global drone hub by 2030. The key features of the new rules, termed Drone Rules (DR) 2021, are going to benefit all stakeholders in the industry, and reduce their compliance burden.

Under the new rules, a bevy of approvals have been abolished, including the need for unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, import clearance, student remote pilot licence, among others.

Not only the types of fees have been brought down (from 72 to 4), the quantum has also been slashed. For instance, the remote pilot licence fee has been cut from Rs 3,000 (for large drones) to Rs 100 for all categories of drones.
"This is a welcome step which has come almost seven years after drones were banned in the country," says Rahat Kulshreshtha, founder & CEO, Quidich.

The rules say that interactive airspace maps with green, yellow and red zones will be displayed on the Digital Sky Platform within 30 days of publication of these rules. Digital Sky Platform is the bedrock of drone regulations in India. Despite the previous rules in force, the airspace maps were not available on the platform, which made it difficult for operators to distinguish between the red zone (flying not permitted), yellow zone (controlled airspace) and green zones (automatic permission).

"The Drone Rules 2021 signify a departure from the earlier regime that required numerous authorisations. The success of the DR 2021 would go hand in hand with the functioning of the Digital Sky platform in its true form. The rules place trust on the operator," says Vignesh Santhanam, India Lead (Aerospace and Drones), World Economic Forum (WEF), adding that in case of cargo deliveries, the economic viability improves with higher payloads and higher value goods over long distances or 'milk runs'.

Also read: Govt notifies new Drone Rules, 2021

Experts say that the policy extends an olive branch to drones that were imported into or manufactured in India before November 2021. The commissioning of a Drone Promotion Council is expected to further bolster the sector in positioning India as an operational, manufacturing and economic hub for drones in the region.

Interestingly, the rules allow foreign ownership in Indian drone companies whereas the import of drones will be regulated by just DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade), hence removing one layer of clearance from aviation regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation).

Also read: 10 entities receive govt approval to use drones; get exemption under new rules

But how is this going to pan out on the ground? In the short-term, owners of nano and micro drones who largely do surveys, mapping and filming projects could expect fewer paperwork. Then, there's likely to be a huge uptake of drones in areas like agricultural surveys, land mapping projects, mining, construction and other related activities.

"Overall, liberalisation of India's drone policy is a bold move that will pay rich dividends as the sector matures. From an economic and social standpoint, we will have to monitor statistics such as enrollment in remote pilot learning programmes, number of UINs, among others, in the next 12 months as these would indicate the rate of adoption of drones at large and the creation of specialised jobs to bridge the supply side constraints that sector has been facing," says WEF's Santhanam.

Also read: New Drone Rules usher in a landmark moment; compliance rules significantly eased: PM Modi