Crisis always seem to nudge innovation and adoption of new technologies. The country is in the middle of revisiting and re-assessing its existing policies on unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly referred to as “drones”.
Recently, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA”), granted permission to over 10 companies for testing their drones beyond the visual line of sight for drone delivery services. Meanwhile, the Central Government published the draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 (“Drone Rules”) for public and stakeholder comments.
These Drone Rules aim to replace the current legal framework regulating drones in India – The Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR Framework), which lay down the requirements for operation of civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) or drones.
What is the CAR Framework?
The intent of regulating the airspace for operation of drones was first reflected in 2014 when India suddenly banned the use of drones for certain delivery services. Four years later in August 2018, the first version of the CAR Framework was officially issued. The CAR Framework covers the registering, operating, enlisting, monitoring, manufacturing and safety requirements for civil RPAs.
Currently, all types of drone owners and drones are required to enlist themselves with the DGCA and procure a unique Ownership Acknowledgment Number and Drone Acknowledgement Number on a digital platform (“Digital Sky”). However, only RPAs which are intended to be operated or used by the operator/pilot are required to procure further permits and comply with the CAR Framework.
At this juncture, it is important to note that RPAs are unmanned aircraft systems, which are piloted from a remote pilot station. This essentially means that the CAR Framework does not regulate entirely automated, pilot-less aircraft systems or drone prototypes.
Obtaining Permits for RPAs
The procedure of registering and the permissions required to be procured for operation of RPAs depend on the origin of the RPA ie if it is imported or locally purchased. For instance, RPAs that are imported into India require import clearance from the DGCA and thereafter an import license from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
Irrespective of the source of origin of RPAs, the following permits are required from relevant authorities for the operation of drones (whether recreational, experimental or commercial) in India.
Equipment Type Approval (ETA)
ETA is required to be procured from the wireless planning and coordination wing of the Department of Telecommunications prior to obtaining any other permit under the CAR Framework. This approval is valid and effective only for a particular make and model of the RPA, details of which are specified while getting the permit.
No permission – No take off (NPNT) compliance certificate
The NPNT regime was introduced in the first version of the CAR Framework and has maintained its place in the drone regulations ever since. This requires all manufacturers to implement firmware and hardware changes in each and every RPA that only allows such flights as are authorised by DGCA. This means that the RPA cannot physically take off unless a particular flight is authorised by DGCA. An NPNT compliant drone cannot fly without first specifying to the DGCA its intended flight envelope, time of flight and pilot credentials. NPNT compliance certificate may be provided by the manufacturer of the RPA (or an OEM).
Unique Identification Number (UIN)
A UIN is required to be procured for all eligible RPAs through the Digital Sky platform. This should not be confused with the Drone Acknowledgment Number (DAN) as DAN is issued upon listing of RPA while UIN is issued to authorise operation of RPAs. Notably, foreign entities are not eligible to apply for a UIN in India, which means a foreign entity cannot operate drones in India. Under certain specific circumstances, UIN is not required to be procured for operations, namely – for nano RPAs flying below 50 ft and for RPAs owned and operated by National Technical Research Organisation, Aviation Research Centre and central intelligence