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The drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS) industry in India has brought with it a revolution for not only aerial transport and logistics, but also for allied industries such as agritech and other forms of commerce. It has seen a tumultuous past with older laws being overly restrictive, however, since August 2021 the Drone Rules, 2021 have liberalized the sector considerably. The new law provides a solid bedrock for the growth of all industries seeking to adopt drone technology to increase efficiency and output from their businesses. They pave the way for BVLOS operations and carriage of payload, in addition to providing incentives for research and development as well as relaxations on entry of foreign players in the Indian market.
DRONE CATEGORIES IN INDIA
UAS has been categorized into three categories as Aeroplane, Rotorcraft and Hybrid which are further sub-categorised as follows:
i. Model Remotely Pilot Aircraft
ii. Remotely Piloted Aircraft
iii. Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System
Sub-categories of UAS based on maximum all-up weight including payload as follows:
i. Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams
ii. Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg.
iii. Small: Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg.
iv. Medium: Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg.
v. Large: Greater than 150 kg.
REGISTRATION IN INDIA
- Operations of drones in India is not permitted without registration on the Digital Sky platform and obtaining a unique identification number (UIN) (unless exempted).
- Moreover, the operations of a UAS is also subject to conformity with a valid type certificate.1
- The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) maintains a registration record of all UAS to which a UIN number has been issued.
RELEVANT LAWS APPLICABLE
The Drones Rules, 2021 form the primary set of rules which govern civil use of drones, including the operation and other aspects of drones in addition to restrictions and compliance requirements of operators of drones. Additionally, the DGCA has issued a detailed scheme on certification of drones for issuance of type certificates.2
From an economic perspective, the drone industry has massive potential in terms of giving a boost to other sectors by attracting significant global investments in India. The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or the drone market in India is projected to yield a turnover of USD 1.8 billion by 2026 in light of the government approved Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI scheme) in India. This would be a massive increase, given that the drone manufacturing companies in India yield a turnover of approximately INR 80 crore (USD 10 million)3. Internationally, various predictions have estimated the drone market to grow from USD 11.6 billion in 2022 to USD 23.0 billion by 2027.4 On June 24, 2023, Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) also amended the export rules, to enable made in India drones for exports in global markets.
While the new rules have opened up the drone sector entirely to both domestic and global players, the work is far from finished. With the increasing number of stakeholders in the sector, new regulatory and security concerns will also arise, which will need to be evaluated by the participants. Having witnessed their use for food and healthcare deliveries, in agriculture, trials for drone taxis are also underway.
The Government has restricted import of drones into India with certain exemptions for specific purposes although, it allows the import of drone components into India in compliance with the applicable regulations. Drone use in agriculture is also promoted through standard operating procedures issued for regulating drone application in the sector where drones are expected to play an increasingly important role in undertaking precision farming.5 Recently, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also released a guidance document for the adoption of drone use in healthcare sector which assists with the planning and execution of drone-based delivery of medical supplies.6
With a boost to every industry that drones fly into, it becomes immensely important for the stakeholders to ensure compliance and be aware of not just drone-specific regulations, but all related sectors as well – including geospatial data laws, data protection, import/export regulations, and the general regulatory outlook prevailing in the country.
3Drone industry will have turnover of upto Rs.15000 cr by 2026: Scindia, Available at: https://www.businessstandard.com/article/economy-policy/drone-industry-will-have-turnover-of-up-to-rs-15-000-cr-by-2026-scindia-121091600945_1.html (Last accessed on July 21, 2023).
4Drone services market by Type Report, Marketsandmarkets, (February 2023) Available at: https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/drone-inspection-monitoring-market-99915267.html (Last accessed on July 21, 2023).
5Accessible at: https://agricoop.nic.in/sites/default/files/SOP%20for%20Drone_2.pdf (Last accessed on July 21, 2023).
6Accessible at: https://www.icmr.gov.in/idrone/pdf_book/Guidance_use_drones_healthcare/mobile/index.html (Last accessed on July 21, 2023).