Days after Jammu attack, Centre issues draft drone policy, relaxes some rules

The rules seek to abolish multiple approvals and propose an airspace map for drone operations separating the airspace into red, yellow and green zones

The draft policy says there will be a minimal human interface on the Digital Sky platform. Representational Visual

The government on Thursday (July 15) issued draft drone rules, 2021 replacing the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules issued in March this year. Among several measures, the rules seek to abolish multiple approvals and propose a digital sky platform — an airspace map for drone operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow and green zones.

The draft rules come almost three weeks after a drone strike on an IAF base in Jammu, injuring two IAF personnel and leaving a hole in a room located in the technical area of the base. Drones being reportedly controlled from either across the border in Punjab and J&K or the proxies within the country are increasingly becoming a security headache with weapons being dropped from them.

In a series of tweets, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the policy will provide a major fillip to the drone industry and mark a stark shift from the earlier rules.

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Also read: Pak drone with weapons shot down by BSF in Jammu & Kashmir

A few days back, Prime Minister Modi chaired a meeting of ministers and discussed the formulation of a policy for the traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones.

HT reported that the draft rules do away with approvals for the unique authorization number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, a certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permits, authorization of R&D organization, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorization and drone port authorization. These rules refer to an interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones for display on the Digital Sky.

Digital Sky is an online platform hosted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for activities related to the management of drones in India.

“The government may, within 30 days of the date of notification of these rules, publish on the digital sky platform, 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 draft rules say.

The yellow zone has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeters. No flight permission will be required up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the areas between 8 and 12 km from airport perimeters, HT said.

Green zone is the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 metre) above ground level (AGL) 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 km and 12 km from the perimeter of an operational airport.

Red zone is the airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of India, or any installation or notified port limits specified by the government beyond the territorial waters of India within which drone operations shall be permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Also read: Jammu drone hit underlines need to sharpen guidelines, counter-measures

“The airspace map for drone operations shall be designed to be programmatically accessible through a machine-readable Application Programming Interface (API) and interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone(s) within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval,” say the rules.

Discussions on a draft policy on drones have been on for over two years. The draft policy says the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) presents a raft of challenges, both technical and operational. Integrating the UAS operations within the current air traffic management (ATM) systems may bring in the need to equip UAS with additional hardware on board, the rules say.

“Drones are bringing the next big tech revolution around the globe with reduced costs, resources and time taken for operations. It is upon us to ride on the new wave and facilitate its uptake, especially among our startups. Way to go!” Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said.

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

The draft policy says there will be a minimal human interface on the Digital Sky platform and most permission will be self-generated.

The Centre has relaxed several other existing rules in the draft document. It also states no pilot licence will be required for micro drones (for non-commercial use), nano drones and for R&D organizations. 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.

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