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07 Sep 2018

Civil Aviation Requirements for Drones

The Ministry of Civil Aviation of Government of India on 27th August 2018 issued Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) for drones announced as Drone Regulations 1.0.  This Requirements would be effective from 1st December 2018.  The purpose of this regulation is to enable safe and commercial usage of civil drones, and is titled “Requirements for operation of civil remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).  The erstwhile position of the Government by a notice dated 7th October 2014 was that Drones were banned.  Thereafter, draft of the drone Requirements was issued by DGCA on 21/04/2016 and thereafter on 01/11/2017.  With this Civil Aviation Requirements, private and commercial operation of drones are legal with a “No permission, no take off” policy.

An unmanned aircraft which is remotely piloted is regulated under this policy.  It includes certain types of drones.  Autonomous aircraft and model aircraft are not within the scope of this regulation, however were part of the earlier drafts.  Remotely Piloted Aircraft (hereinafter “Drones”) together with remote pilot stations, its command and control links, and other components are defined as Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (“Drone System”).

Drones are categorized based on their weight: – Nano (less than 250 g), Micro (between 250 g and 2kg), Small (between 2kg and 25kg), Medium (between 25kg and 150kg), large (above 150kg).  Any entity who is importing or who is locally purchasing Drones, other than Nano category, is required to get Equipment Type Approval which is specific for a particular type and model and thereafter required to get security clearance from MHA.

All Drones, except for Nano category intended to fly up to 50 feet in uncontrolled airspace, has to get Unique Identification Number (“UIN”) which is specific to that Drone, and has to provide particulars of owner/operator and the Drone’s technical specifications.  The Unique Identification Number will be provided only to such owners who are Indian citizens; to government or government-controlled entities; to company or body corporates with sufficient control vested in Indian nationals.  This indicates that foreign nationals or foreign-owned companies cannot own Drones in India.  Certain category of Drones requires its operator (a person or entity who is engaging in its operations) to get Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) which is valid for a 5-year period and is nontransferable.  Such UAOP holder shall maintain records of each Drone flight and produce it on demand to the authority.

The operator of Drone shall be responsible for safe custody, security and its access.  In case of loss, accident, it should be reported to the concerned authority, and when Drone is damaged and is not restorable, the owner/operator should notify for cancellation of UIN.  The operator is responsible for taking security measures before each flight.  Drones (issued with UIN) shall not be sold or disposed off without permission of the authority.

The Remote Pilot (one who manipulates the flight controls) should have attained 18 years of age and passed 10th exam in English and undergone training.  Remote Pilot shall not fly Drones unless he/she is satisfied that it is in working condition.

Regarding technical specifications, all Drones except Nano category is required to be equipped with:

  1. GNSS for horizontal and vertical positioning fixing.
  2. Autonomous flight termination system or return home option.
  3. Flashing anti-collision strobe lights.
  4. RFID and GSM Sim card.
  5. Fire resistant identification plate with UIN.
  6. Flight controller with flight data logging capability.

All Drones, except Nano and Micro category, requires additional equipment/capabilities in place such as SSR transponder, barometric equipment, geofencing capability, detect and avoid capability.

The operating requirements necessitate Drone operator to:

  1. Prepare a standard operating procedure for take-off/landing, collision avoidance, noise abatement, flight plan filing, local airspace restriction, right of way, communications, emergency and recovery procedure.
  2. Restrict operations for all Drone categories (except in enclosed premises) to daylight only when there is supporting meteorological conditions like visibility, wind, rain, hail, snow, or thunderstorm activities.
  3. File flight plan (except for Nano and micro category) at least 24 hours before actual operations and obtain Air traffic control clearance, meteorological briefing, air defense clearance, Flight Information Center number.
  4. Obtain permission (except for Nano category) before undertaking flight through “Digital Sky Platform”.
  5. In case of Nano and Micro category intending to operate beyond 50 feet, to take necessary approvals as in the case for other categories.
  6. Inform local police in writing prior to commencement of operations.
  7. Carry out safety risk assessment, establish designated safe areas, segregate take-off and landing areas from public.
  8. Ensure privacy norms are followed.
  9. Notify any cancellations in operations immediately to the authorities.

Other operating requirements necessitate remote pilot to operate only one Drone at a time; and in case of many operator, one shall be pilot-in-command. Drones are required to give way to manned aircraft, not to discharge or drop substances unless specifically cleared and mentioned in the UAOP, not transport hazardous or explosive materials and not carry animal or human payload,

There are restrictions to fly Drones within 5 km from the perimeters of airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad; and within 3 km from the perimeters of civil, private, or defence airports, or military establishments or installations; similar perimeter restrictions for Vijay Chowk in Delhi, strategic installations, state secretariat.  There are restrictions to fly within prohibited or restricted areas, within 25 kilometers away from international borders, beyond 500 m into sea from coastline.  There is restriction to fly Drones from a mobile platform such as moving vehicle, ship or aircraft.  There are restrictions to carry out aerial photography or remote sensing survey over such above-mentioned areas.

The enforcement actions are, (a) suspension/ cancellation of UIN/ UAOP in case of violation of regulatory provisions, (b) actions as per relevant Sections of the Aircraft Act 1934, or Aircraft Rules, or any statutory provisions, and (c) penalties as per applicable IPCs (such as 287, 336, 337, 338, or any relevant section of IPC).  It is pertinent to mention that violation of Aircraft Act is punishable with imprisonment which may exceed to three years or a fine which may extend to 10 lakhs or both.

The Government has set out manufacturing standards for both Indian Drones and foreign Drones to be imported.

The key element of this regulation is introduction of Digital Sky Platform through which all applications, approvals, and operations of drones would be processed on a case to case basis.  This would ease commercial operations of drones and reduce difficulties of permit raj.  The Digital Sky Platform is first-of-its-kind national unmanned traffic management portal.  Users will be required to do a one-time registration of their drones, pilots and owners.  For every flight (except nano category), users will be required to ask for permission to fly on a mobile app and an automated process permits or denies the request instantly.  To ensure public safety, any unauthorized flights from any drone without a digital permit will not be able to takeoff.  This portal operates as a traffic regulator and provides drone coordinates closely with the defense and civilian air traffic controllers (ATCs) to ensure that drones remain on the approved flight paths.

With this regulation, government has shown its intent to adopt use of this technology in India, legalized use of drones, and also focused on adequately reducing operational hurdles.  Along with, this regulation provides adequate safeguards and security aspects by defining no drone zones and restricting operations to Indian citizens only.  It is pertinent to state that this regulation is issued at a time when there are no significant Drone legislations internationally or by ICAO.

In this direction, the Government is set to issue Drone Regulations 2.0 comprising Certification of drone hardware & software, airspace management, operations beyond visual line of sight, contribution to global standards, etc.

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