In a big reversal to its previous stance, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) has issued Draft Drone Rules 2021 for public consultation. The draft rules talks about a bunch of relaxations to the previous drones guidelines (Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021) implemented in March this year.
The new draft rules have abolished a bunch of approvals around the manufacturing, operations and research and development (R&D) of drones. For instance, the draft rules have done away with the need for unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, and drone port authorisation.
In addition, the draft policy will not restrict drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India. Industry experts say that this move is likely to bring in fresh investments in the industry. “The government has removed a lot of overheads. Though some details are not listed in the draft rules, a lot of lot of things look feasible commercially under these rules. On the operator side, the need for UAOP (Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit) has been removed. They will only require pilots’ license. The industry is going to get a fillip,” says Neel Mehta, director at Asteria Aerospace, a drone tech firm in which Reliance Industries owns major stake.
Not just restrictive, the previous rules hampered the industry growth as a lot of pieces were missing. Take Digital Sky Platform, for instance. The platform was supposed to give real-time information to drone operators about the red zone (flying not permitted), yellow zone (controlled airspace) and green zones (automatic permission) for flight operations. Despite the policy, the government didn’t publish airspace maps under which these zones were supposed to be earmarked. “Less than 0.1 per cent of the land space was notified under different zones,” says an industry consultant.
But the new draft rules say that “the government will publish, within 30 days of the date of notification of the rules, an airspace map for drone operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow and green zones with a horizontal resolution equal or finer than 10 metre.”
The Digital Sky platform also monitored NPNT (No Permission No Takeoff) system wherein the operators were not allowed to fly if they were not granted permission. Under the draft rules, the operators will be given six-month lead time for compliance with NPNT and other safety measures like real-time tracking beacon, and geo-fencing.
The draft rules have come out within a month of explosions at the Jammu Air Force base which were carried out by drones. However, experts say that people with malicious intent will anyway use drones for attacks irrespective of the policy. “People will still do harmful things. Then, why restrict the industry from fully utilising its benefits. The draft rules were in the works even before the Jammu attack and just the approval at the prime minister-level was pending,” says the consultant quoted above.
A slew of tech firms like Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo are exploring drone-based delivery systems over the past two years. However, it will still take some time before such flights are allowed in the country.
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