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Government notifies drone traffic management policy

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    2nd Nov, 2021

Context

The Civil Aviation Ministry has notified a traffic management framework for drones under which public and private third-party service providers will manage their movement in the airspace under 1,000 feet.

Background

  • In September this year, the Union government approved a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for drones and drone components with an allocation of Rs 120 crore spread over three financial years.
  • The ministry had in August notified the Drone Rules, 2021 that eased the regulation of drone operations in India by reducing the number of forms that need to be filled to operate them from 25 to five and decreasing the types of fees charged from the operator from 72 to four.
  • The framework has been issued under the Drone Rules, 2021, only.

Drone Rules, 2021

  • Applicability:  Individuals owning, possessing, exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring, or maintaining a drone in India.
    • They don’t apply to drones used by the armed forces.
  • Issuing authority: The certificate will be issued by the Quality Council of India or a certification body authorized by the government.
  • Drone Corridor: The rules also envision a drone corridor that will cater to deliveries and taxis.
    • A drone taxi, or passenger drone, is a pilotless helicopter that can fly at a speed of around 130 km/hour. 
  • Safety features: Safety features like ‘No permission – no take-off’ (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing, etc. to be notified in the future. A six-month lead time will be provided for compliance. 
  • Airspace map: An interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the digital sky platform.  
  • Coverage: Coverage of drones under Drone Rules, 2021 increased from 300 kg to 500 kg.  This will cover drone taxis also. 

Analysis

What is in the new framework?

  • The integration of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and air traffic management (ATM) will be important to continuously separate manned and unmanned aircraft from each other in the airspace.
  • The framework allows third-party service providers to give services such as
    • registration
    • flight planning
    • dynamic deconfliction
    • access to supplementary data like weather, terrain and position of manned aircraft
  • Also, a set of supplementary service providers will also be permitted under the framework to provide services such as insurance and data analytics to support the UTM ecosystem.
  • Approvals and permissions: DigitalSky platform shall continue to be the interface for government stakeholders to provide approvals and permissions to drone operators wherever required.
  • All drones (except Nano drones operating in the green zone) shall be required to mandatorily share their real-time location through the network to the Centre either directly or through third-party service providers.
  • The third-party service providers will first be deployed in small geographical areas that could be increased gradually.
  • Moreover, these service providers will be permitted to charge drone operators a service fee and a small portion of it might have to be shared with the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages the ATM.

What are Drones?

  • Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that can be maneuvered remotely by a pilot. There are three subsets of Unmanned Aircraft:
    • Remotely Piloted Aircraft
    • Autonomous Aircraft
    • Model Aircraft
  • Based on their weight, drones can be divided into five categories:
    • nano (weighing up to 250 g)
    • micro (250 g to 2 kg)
    • small (2-25 kg)
    • medium (25-150 kg)
    • large (over 150 kg)

What’s the need?

  • With rapid technological evolution of unmanned aircraft, opening up of new use cases and policy reforms, the number of such aircraft operating in the Indian airspace is poised to increase rapidly.
  • Current air traffic management (ATM) systems have not been designed to handle the traffic from unmanned aircraft.
  • Integration of unmanned aircraft in the Indian airspace using conventional means may require unmanned aircraft to be equipped with bulky and expensive hardware, which is neither feasible nor advisable.
  • This requires the creation of a separate, modern, primarily software-based, automated UAS (unmanned aircraft system) Traffic Management (UTM) system.
  • Such systems may subsequently be integrated into traditional ATM systems.
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