New drone rules take effect; unauthorized trade to invite penalty

Drones weighing more than 250 grams can only be flown by a remote pilot with permission from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for every flight, as per new drone rules that came into force on Friday.

The new rules finalized after about ten months of consultation, however, do not yet give permission for the delivery of goods using drones.

The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 notified on Friday lays the terms of drone use by individuals and businesses as well as terms of research, testing, production, and import of these vehicles. The new rules set a regulatory framework aimed at encouraging the use of drones for various commercial and security purposes and outlines the ‘dos and don’ts’ for users.

Use of any drone other than those in the nano category—those weighing 250 gms or less—need a permit. However, nano drones that have a maximum speed of more than 15 meters per second in level flight or are capable of flying more than 15 meters high and have a range more than 100 meters from the remote pilot will fall in the next category—micro drones for which permit and take-off permission are needed. Micro drones are in general classified as those weighing more than 250 gms but equal to or less than two kilograms.

Unauthorized import, buying selling, and leasing of unmanned droneare offenses inviting penalty but can be compounded by paying specified amounts. The rules prescribe the compounding amounts for various offenses with higher amounts for heavier drones. These rules also apply to drones existing in the country even today. Flying a drone by a person who is not a licensed remote pilot is also a compoundable offense.

The rules do not allow use of drones beyond visual line of sight or for delivery of goods, which would limit the use of these gadgets to surveys, photography, security and various information gathering purposes. The use of drones in commercial, safety, law and order, disaster management, and surveillance operations cuts down manpower requirements and costs.

The final rules come at a time the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the role technology can play in reducing human interface and costs. Drones offer low-cost, safe and quick aerial surveys for data collection and are useful for industries such as power, mining, realty and oil and gas exploration.

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