INDIA’S FIRST DRAFT LAWS ON REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT
SEPTEMBER 20TH 2017
India has, one of the largest grey markets today for privately owned and operated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) or Remotely Operated / Piloted Aircraft Systems (“RPAS”) in the world. These systems are popularly known as “Drones”, which, unknown to most stands for Dynamic Remotely Operated Navigation Systems.
The aviation regulator, known as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA”), which is an offshoot of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (“MoCA”) that would primarily be concerned with operation of such Drones, mandated a blanket ban on the usage of the systems in October, 2014. Since then, apart from the Government placing the import of Drones in a so-called “restricted” category, there has been little progress in formulating rules and regulations in that regard. The DGCA had previously, in April 2016, released a draft Civil Aviation Requirement (“CAR”) that sought to regulate the usage of UAS, etc. Comments were invited from the general public (Sarin & Co. was one of the entities that submitted its detailed comments) however, that CAR was never finalized. Word has it that the Ministry of Home Affairs and other Ministries of the Indian government were concerned about, inter-alia the security aspect of the ability for a private person to operate a potentially weapon carrying Drone.
Finally, on the 13th of September 2017, the MoCA has released yet another draft (dated 11th September, 2017), this time a draft amendment to the Aircraft Rules, 1937 which formalizes the use of “RPAS” in India. The mandatory period of 30 days from the notification of the draft is yet to be exhausted at the time of publishing this article and shall expire on the 13th of October 2017. The notification containing the draft rules can be found here.
The highlights of this notification are as illustrated in the following paragraphs and have been explained as far a practicable to allow the general public to understand what the government is trying to achieve.
- The draft defines a “Remote Pilot” as a “person charged by the operator with duties essential to the operation of a remotely piloted aircraft and who manipulates the flight controls, as appropriate, during the flight time;” – proposed Rule 3 (47B)
- A “Remote Pilot Station” is defined as “the component of the remotely piloted aircraft system, containing the equipment used to pilot the remotely piloted aircraft;” – proposed Rule 3 (47C)
- A “Remotely Piloted Aircraft” is defined as “an unmanned aircraft which is piloted from a remote pilot station;” – proposed Rule 3 (47D)
- A “Remotely Piloted Aircraft System” is defined as “a remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), the required command and control links and any other components as specified in the type design;” – proposed Rule 3 (47E)
Unique Identification Numbers; Permits and Fees:
- No RPAS above 250 gms may be flown unless the said RPAS has been allotted a Unique Identification Number (“UIN”) – proposed Rule 15A(1). This essentially means that there would not be a requirement to obtain a UIN for a RPAS with a weight below 250 gms;
- Certain RPAS may require a permit, which shall stipulate the conditions under which an operator may operate the RPAS, the conditions shall be specified by the Director General (“DG”) and these conditions may be specified (by the DG) according to the all up weight of the RPAS. The permit shall be granted by the DG on being satisfied that the applicant meets the requirements as specified. The continuation of the validity of the permit shall be subject to the compliance by the holder with the conditions as stipulated by the DG – proposed Rule 15A(2). This leaves no room for doubt that the DGCA will subsequently release CAR’s specifying, (i) the all up weight exceeding which, the operator will require a permit; (ii) the conditions of grant of such permit, (iii) the procedure for grant of such permit and (iv) the procedure for continued validity of such a permit.
- The permit so granted, shall remain valid for a maximum period of 5 years and may be so renewed for a period not exceeding 5 years unless such permit is suspended or cancelled prior to such expiry – proposed Rule 15A(3)
- The DG may suspend or cancel the permit after giving an appropriate show cause notice to the permit holder for non-compliance of the conditions contained on the permit or for any other violation of the rules – proposed Rule 15A(4);
- Fee for grant of UIN – Rs. 1000 – proposed Rule 15A(5);
- Fee for grant of permit – Rs. 50,000 – proposed Rule 15A(5)(i);
- Fee for renewal of permit – Rs. 15,000 – proposed Rule 15A(5)(ii).
Other rules applicable and / or other exemptions:
- The proposed Rule 20 (2) stipulates other rules under the Aircraft Rules, 1937 that shall not be applicable to RPAS. These are listed as follows:
- The rules regarding registration, nationality and registration marks (Rule 5);
- The rules regarding licensing of personnel (Rule 6);
- The conditions to be complied with by aircraft in flight (Rule 15);
- All rules contained in Part III of the Aircraft Rules regarding “General Safety Conditions” with the exception of the rules relating to danger flying (Rule 21), general safety (Rule 21A) and dropping of articles and descents by parachutes (Rule 26).
- All rules relating to registration and marking of aircraft (Rules 30 to 37A);
- All rules relating to personnel of aircraft (Rules 38 to 48);
- All rules relating to airworthiness of aircraft (Rules 49 to 62);
- All rules relating to the radio telegraph apparatus (Rules 63 to 64).
While this is a step in the right direction, it is prima facie evident that the fees for grant of a permit are exorbitant and would definitely bar many, especially hobbyists, from seeking a permit to fly their RPAS. Further, it is expected that, once comments are received on the aforementioned draft Rules from the general public and thereafter once the final notification is issued implementing the proposed rules, the DGCA will release draft CAR’s which will specify the conditions, etc. that would be required by an applicant seeking a permit and / or UIN to operate their RPAS.
The author of this article is an aviation lawyer qualified in both India as well as England & Wales. Apart from a lawyer, the author is a drone pilot and avid drone enthusiast.