Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, in a complete reversal of the Indian government's ban on flying of drones in the country, its civil aviation ministry announced rules for operating unmanned aerial vehicles, most commonly known as drones. From 1 December 2018, drone users will be able to fly these machines in many places, with the notable exception of sensitive locations such as airports and international borders.
Operators of drones can now use the devices for photography and recreational purposes, but they have to get the relevant permissions by applying through an online portal dubbed Digital Sky Platform. This is a big development in India, as it's the country's first unmanned traffic management system. In line with regulation in many other countries, drones will now be allowed to fly within visual line of sight during the day, up to a maximum altitude of 400 feet. Commercial applications, including those where drones are used as taxis and delivery vehicles, won't be allowed when the policy comes into effect, but the ministry is open to changing regulations as the technology matures.
The new norms have categorised drones into five types according to their weight: nano, micro, small, medium and large. The rules that apply will depend on the weight class that each drone falls into — they begin from under 250 grams and extend to over 150 kilograms. All devices apart from nano-drones must be registered with the government and issued with a unique identification number. Devices flown by selected government agencies don't need a licence.
Beyond these permissions, drone users will also need an unmanned aircraft operator permit, with the exception of nano-drones operating below 50 feet and micro-drones navigating below 200 feet. Airspace, too, has been divided by the government into different zones: a red zone indicates drones aren't permitted, a yellow zone designates a controlled airspace and requires permission before flying, and there's also a green zone where automatic permission is granted. Some regions in India have been marked as "no drone zones", including areas around airports, near international borders, over government buildings in state capitals and strategic and military installations.
Drone technology is evolving very quickly, and as many countries experiment with regulations for these devices, the Indian government is recognising their importance. It's now trying to catch up, and indeed, catapult itself to the forefront of drone technology. It will be hoping this initiative will have a positive impact on India's economy by encouraging a whole new Made in India drone industry to evolve.