Drones are fast bringing the next big technology revolution around the globe. The major reason is the vast number of applications that they account for, from simple drone photography to delivering small payloads from one place to another.
The list is potentially endless. In most use cases, such drones are tiny, agile and able to access areas that would be near impossible for humans. Their use for spraying insecticides over a field and installing sensors deep in the jungles for forest monitoring are just a couple of example of how they can help.
Though just like any other technology, their use depends largely on the intentions of the human flying it. This means drones can potentially be used for illegal or destructive activities by miscreants, like the recent drone attack at the Indian Air Force station in Jammu.
Not to forget, they can just as easily malfunction, causing unintended harm to others. It is, thus, very important to regulate their ownership and use. The government of India did the same earlier this year with guidelines under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
The new drone laws and regulations apply to anyone looking to operate an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in India. Here is a gist of what the regulations say vis-a-vis how you can fly a drone in the country.
Who can fly drones in India?
The ability to fly a drone in India is subject to the type of drone and the corresponding permit and license needed for it. As per the size of the drone, the following categories have been listed under the Gazette:
Nano Drones: Drones weighing less than or equal to 250 grams fall under this category. The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, state that no license or permit is needed to fly such drones.
Micro and Small Drones: Micro drones are those weighing more than 250 grams but less than 2 kg. The latter, Small drones, indicates UAS weighing more than 2 kg but under 25 kg. Pilots of such drones require a UAS Operator Permit-I (UAOP-I) for all flying purposes.
The drone pilots will have to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as accepted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The permit will allow the operation of such drones limited to the visual line of sight without any payload.
Medium and Large Drones: The guidelines specify medium drones as those weighing more than 25 kg but less than 150 kg, while large drones have been classified as those weighing more than 150 kg. For the operation of either one of them, one would require UAS Operator Permit-II (UAOP-II).
DGCA has also put up conditions for flying such drones, and the pilots are required to abide by them. For instance, such drones cannot be flown within closed spaces. They also need prior clearance from Air Traffic and Air Defence Control before being flown.
Operators are also required to implement a Safety Management System (SMS) as standard practice for ensuring safe operation. UAOP-II permits the carriage of goods as well as dangerous goods as per the Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003.
UAOP-II holders can also use Micro and Small drones to carry goods subject to Operations Manual and clearances from DGCA. Both UAOP-I and UAOP-II will remain valid for a period of not more than ten years.
Required drone pilot license
There are two types of licences that will determine the issuance of an operator's permit. These are Student Remote Pilot License and Remote Pilot License. Applicants of any of these licences should be at least 18 years of age and not more than 65 years of age if flying a drone for commercial activity.
As for the minimum qualifications, the applicants should have passed class X or "its equivalent examination from a recognised Board." Applicants are also required to clear a DGCA specified medical examination and a background check.
Here is a look at what the two drone pilot licences entail -
Student Remote Pilot License: Valid for a maximum period of 5 years from the date of issuance, Student Remote Pilot License is issued for a fee by an authorised training organisation. These can be renewed for an additional period of 2 years.
Remote Pilot License: These licences are issued for a fee by the DGCA itself and stand valid for a total of 10 years from issuance. These are issued on the basis of training and skill tests from an authorised training organisation. A Remote Pilot License can be renewed for another 10 years once expired.
Both UAOP-I and UAOP-II require a Remote Pilot License "of appropriate class and category."
Drone use conditions
There are, of course, several restrictions on drone use even if you manage to attain these licences and permits. The most obvious one is that no drones should fly over a Prohibited Area. The Gazette specifies "Prohibited Area" as "the airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of India within which the flights of unmanned aircraft are not permitted."
Other than the area restrictions, there are limitations on the altitude and speed at which drones can be flown. These are mostly based on the type of drones. A Micro drone, for instance, cannot be flown beyond a height of 60 meters above ground level (AGL) or over a speed of 25 meters per second. The same restrictions for Small drones stand at 120 meters AGL and 25 meters per second.
There are several other such restrictions, and those looking to operate a drone are urged to go through them in the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021.
Penalties on failure of compliance
The Gazette highlights penalties on several acts that go against the guidelines issued in the Gazette. These range from flying a drone without a licence and permit to flying them over prohibited areas.
Individuals flying any drone other than those in the Nano category, for instance, without a valid license or permit, will have to pay a fine of Rs 25,000. Flying an unmanned aircraft over no operation area will attract a penalty of Rs 50,000.
Such penalties extend up to Rs 5 lakh for the manufacturers of drones. Interested drone buyers, pilots and even manufacturers are hence advised to read and follow all the guidelines as mentioned in the Gazette around drone use in India.
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