Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), popularly referred to as drones, are a technology platform with wide-ranging applications. In August 2018, the government had announced the release of its Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) to enable safe flying of RPAS in India. The CAR detailed the obligations of operators, remote pilots/ users and manufacturers/ OEM for safe operations of RPAS and co-operative use of airspace. It also announced Digital Sky Platform, a first of its kind that implements ‘no permission, no take-off’ (NPNT) – a novel system of software-based self-enforcement to minimize deviations from the CAR. The regulations were to come in effect from December 1, allowing the industry time to ready themselves for the launch. Nano drones in India can start flying legally from today. For micro and above categories, operators and pilots are required to register on the Digital Sky Portal.
The platform has begun accepting registrations of users. Payments for Unmanned Aerial Operator’s Permit (UAOP) and Unique Identification Numbers (UIN) will be accepted through the Bharat Kosh (bharatkosh.gov.in) portal.
To get permissions to fly, RPAS operators or remote pilots will have to file a flight plan. Flying in the ‘green zones’ will require only intimation of the time and location of the flights via the portal or the app. Permissions will be required for flying in ‘yellow zones’ and flights will not be allowed in the ‘red zones’. The location of these zones will be announced soon. Permission, if granted, will be available digitally on the portal.
If an RPAS does not have permission to fly, it will not be allowed to take-off under the policy of No Permission-No-Takeoff (NPNT). This aspect of the portal is expected to be live soon. Existing drone operators are requested to contact their manufacturers for NPNT-compliant firmware upgrades & Equipment Type Approvals (ETA) from WPC Wing of DoT. Potential drone owners are required to buy NPNT-compliant RPAS. A point of contact in the WPC is available on the Digital Sky Website DGCA has released a list of Frequently Asked Questions as well as a list of Do’s & Don’ts for safe flying.
A detailed RPAS Guidance Manual has been released in November and is available on the DGCA website. This includes technical Specifications for NPNT compliance that will help manufacturers roll out relevant upgrades to their RPAS. The import of drones is now permitted as well, and a point of contact in the DGFT is available on the Digital Sky Website.
The Digital Sky Platform is built to evolve with the evolving needs of this rapidly changing industry. In the coming months, new features will be developed to ease the process of flying for users, and provide oversight to security agencies. Furthermore, it is envisioned that in the future Digital Sky Service Providers (DSPs) will be extending the functionality of the platform through Application Program Interfaces (APIs).
On this occasion, Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Civil Aviation, Government of India said that “Drones are an industry of the future. It is a matter of great pride for India that we are now at the cutting edge of the rule making in this industry. India will be taking lead in this sector and will be working with countries around the world to develop common, scale able standards. This industry has a large potential for Make in India and also to export drones and services from India.’
Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha said that, “Today, we have taken the first step towards our vision of seeing millions of drones fly in India. Drones are a frontier technology which has the potential to leapfrog India’s economic growth. This technology can greatly benefit our farmers, infrastructure entities like railways, roads, ports, mines and factories, sectors like insurance, photography, entertainment, etc.”
The Minister for Civil Aviation has constituted a task-force on the recommendation of Drone Policy 2.0 under the chairmanship of the Minister of State. This task-force which is expected to release their final report by the end of this year. Drone 2.0 framework for RPAS are expected to include regulatory architecture for autonomous flying, delivery via drones and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights.