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Govt releases liberal drone rules, with security in mind

The policy aims to enable more types of unmanned aircraft operational scenarios

drone iit rep pti Representational image | PTI

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with his top ministers to chalk out a broad-based policy to deal with emerging security threats and futuristic challenges facing the country from drone operations, the ministry of civil aviation on Thursday has come out with the Draft Drone Rules, 2021. Public opinion is sought before notifying them to replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules issued in March this year.

Drone operations in India have raised serious security concerns after the drone attack on the Jammu Indian Air Force base last month.

The draft rules have reduced the yellow zone from 45km to 12km from the airport perimeter. No flight permission is required up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12km from the airport perimeter.

Explaining about colour zones for drone operations, the civil aviation ministry stated that green zone refers to the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 metre) above ground level (AGL) that has not been designated as a red zone or yellow zone in the airspace map for drone operations and the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 200 feet (60 metre) AGL in the area located between a lateral distance of 8 kilometre and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport.

Red zone refers to the airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of India, or any installation or notified port limits specified by the Central Government beyond the territorial waters of India, within which drone operations shall be permitted only under exceptional circumstances by the Central Government, the civil aviation ministry clarified.

As per the policy, it is aimed to enable more types of unmanned aircraft operational scenarios and increase the ease of compliance for the unmanned aviation industry while ensuring safety and security.

"The ability to identify and track a UAS flying in Indian airspace will prove to be a very important capability while enabling high-density, complex UAS operations," the draft policy stated.

While talking about the drone corridors, which will be developed for cargo deliveries, the policy says there will be a minimal human interface on the Digital Sky platform and most permissions will be self-generated. It also proposes to reduce fees to nominal levels and not link the fee with the size of the drone.

Safety features like ‘No permission, no take-off’, real-time tracking beacon and geo-fencing are to be notified in future. A six-month lead time will be provided for compliance.

Relaxing several existing rules, the new policy ensures no pilot licence will be required for micro drones (for non-commercial use), nano drones and for R&D organisations. Moreover, there will be no restriction on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India. No security clearance will be required before any registration or licence issuance.

In fact, a drone promotion council is to be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime, as per new rules.

Incidents like drone attack on Saudi Arabia's largest petroleum company, Aramco, in September 2019 and arms dropping by UAVs in Punjab from across the India-Pakistan border have raised alarm bells in the Indian security establishment.

It is estimated that the market potential for drones and counter-drone systems in India could be around Rs. 300,000 crore or approximately $40 billion. This includes defence, homeland security, commercial and counter-drone system segments.

An official blueprint prepared by the Central agencies claims that unregulated drones, UAVs and remotely-piloted aircraft systems are a potential threat to vital installations, sensitive locations, and specific events and largely to national security. As per information available with the ministry of civil aviation, close to 24,000 imported drones are registered with the government under the prevalent rules.


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