The first drone legislation, passed in 2018, legalized drones and dug the foundations for important infrastructures such as the Digital Sky platform, NPNT compliance, and UTM services. While the implementation of these systems is still underway, drone exemptions could help support the struggling drone industry in India. (Check out the list of approved drone manufacturers in India)
In March 2021, the government of India finalized the latest drone legislation, titled UAS Rules 2021. These rules amended the older CAR (Civil Aviation Requirements) and tightened up the existing drone laws. Heavy penalties for defaulters, arduously long approval stages, and numerous documentation slowed the industry significantly. However, conditional exemptions provided by the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) are helping drone manufacturers to surpass these stages and get right to business.
What are Conditional Drone Exemptions?
A conditional drone exemption is permission from the DGCA and Ministry of Civil Aviation to conduct a drone operation or trial, which was not feasible under ordinary circumstances due to legal reasons. This permission does not mean that drone operations can be conducted in any manner preferred by the applicant. The operation will still be required to follow a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and conditions levied by the DGCA. However, the whole process of getting a flight plan approved on the Digital Sky platform is overridden.
Applications of These Exemptions
The issuance of drone exemptions has increased since the onset of the pandemic. Drones have been largely useful to deal with several logistical operations efficiently. From aerial spraying to law enforcement, several companies have employed drones at the frontlines because of exemptions. Some recent exemptions that are shaping the industry are as follows:
Telangana Government’s BVLOS Drone Trials
The Telangana government has begun using drones to deliver vaccines in remote areas of the state. It received its conditional drone exemption on 7th May 2021, from the MoCA. This is a giant step towards future drone delivery programs. This is the first time that drones are being used in a large-scale BVLOS operation to deliver medical supplies. Several countries like Rwanda, UK, and the US have well-developed drone delivery operations in place. With drone exemptions and the developing infrastructure, India may soon follow suit. Read the official exemption order here.
20 Consortia Approved for BVLOS Drone Trials
In an exemption order dating 4th May 2021, the MoCA has granted a conditional exemption to 20 Consortia (Companies) to conducted experimental BVLOS drone operations. The order specifies that the companies must follow an SOP issued by the DGCA.
The order has been issued as a part of the BVLOS Experiment Assessment and Monitoring (BEAM) Committee constituted by the central government. The BEAM committee evaluated 34 requests out of which 20 companies were granted the exemption. Dunzo, Swiggy, Asteria Aerospace, and TerraDrone India were some of the approved companies on the list. View the complete list in the official order here.
Exemption for Aerial Survey and Mapping
In a more recent example, Madhya Pradesh Madhya Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Co. Ltd. (MOMKVVCL) was granted an exemption to conduct drone operations over Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore, and Jabalpur. The drone operation will be conducted for data acquisition, mapping, and aerial survey of the cities to create a web-based solar roof-top tool.
Through the use of drones, the integration of renewable energy at every roof-top can be made possible through a cost-effective plan. Therefore, this exemption further solidifies the demand, applications, and utility of drones in urban and rural societies. Read the official order here.
There is no doubt that for the commercial drone market to thrive, drone legislation around import, manufacture, and flight needs to be relaxed. Additionally, the drone registration platform, Digital Sky, is also under development. However, drone exemptions offer a workaround for large-scale industrial applications, research and development, and temporary usage. This will help the industry sustain and grow at a gradual pace. Check out our analysis on the UAS Rules 2021 here.