In today's Finshots we talk about the new drone rules that could potentially make it a lot easier to own and operate these flying machines.


The Story

When the draft drone rules were first made public a few months ago, there was a general consensus that the rules were impractical at best. You were required to fill out copious amounts of paperwork, get your hands on multiple licenses and pay sizeable sums (in fee) to have the luxury of owning and operating a drone. And even if you somehow managed to wade through all the bureaucratic red tape, you were then subject to a long list of restrictions that would only allow you to operate a drone in a few select areas.

In fact, as we noted the last time around, the rules “seemed to focus more on all the things you couldn’t do (with a drone), as opposed to explicitly stating what you could do.” And if the rules were made into law, as they were written, then flying drones would no longer have been a fun exercise. It would have been a tedious enterprise instead.

More importantly, it had the capacity of crippling the entire industry even before it took off. Think about it — If nobody is willing to fly drones, manufacturers won’t bother investing in making drones. And if they don’t invest in making drones (especially R&D), then we won’t have a robust civilian market. And if we don’t have a thriving civilian drone market, you can’t have a commercial market (for the likes of Zomato and Swiggy to try out drone deliveries). And this lack of innovation could have hurt our military prospects as well. So all in all, the rules had the potential to do significant damage to a very nascent ecosystem.

Thankfully for us, people in the industry lobbied to introduce sweeping changes within the draft rules and the government seems to have listened to some of the recommendations this time around. In fact, the new rules seem like a complete overhaul for the most part. They have now all but abolished a long list of requirements including certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, and operator permits. The fee structure is also different and it should now be more affordable to buy and operate a drone, irrespective of the kind of drones you’re dealing with. You also won’t need a pilot license if you’re flying micro and nano drones and if you’re an institution dabbling with experimental drone research, then it is no longer mandatory for you to get a separate certificate of airworthiness, unique identification number, prior permissions, remote pilot license, and all of that other stuff that’s mandatory for some participants.

They’ve also clearly trifurcated the Indian airspace into Green, Red, and Yellow Zones. You no longer need prior permission to fly in the green zones. But yellow and red zones are still a no-go unless you have permission. And as you can probably tell, you will likely be able to fly in the yellow zone in some cases, but operating a drone in the red zone will probably require an act of god.

How do you know if you're in the Red Zone?

Well, the government also intends to provide an interactive map and you can use this to chart your flight path. This will be part of the “Digital sky platform”, which the government hopes will be a one stop solution for all activities related to the management of drone activities in India. You can get registration, licensing and other paperwork finalized here without manual intervention.

And finally, as we’ve seen with the recent attacks in Jammu Kashmir, the government doesn’t want to take any chances with drones either. So if you're operating a drone it will have to have safety systems that include

(a) ‘No Permission — No Takeoff’ (NPNT) hardware and firmware updates;

(b) Real-time tracking beacon that communicates the drone’s location, altitude, and speed.

(c) Unique identification number; and

(d) Geo-fencing capability

It will likely make some drones more expensive but you could argue that this is something that’s non-negotiable considering the potential for misuse. So yeah, the new drone rules look a lot better than the old ones and now you know why.

Until then...

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