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.
Current air traffic management (ATM) systems have not been designed to handle the traffic from unmanned aircraft, the framework issued on October 24 stated.
"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," it noted.
This requires the creation of a separate, modern, primarily software-based, automated UAS (unmanned aircraft system) Traffic Management (UTM) system, it said, adding that such systems may subsequently be integrated into traditional ATM systems.
The integration of UTM and 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 and 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.
DigitalSky platform shall continue to be the interface for government stakeholders to provide approvals and permissions to drone operators wherever required, according to the framework.
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, it mentioned.
It said 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.
Smit Shah, director of industry body DroneFederation of India, said in a statement: "Traditional traffic management services provided by ATCs (air traffic controllers) for manned aircraft cannot be scaled for managing drone traffic which is expected to become at least 100 times higher since the traditional ATM is manual and requires human intervention."
This policy framework shall allow third-party service providers to deploy highly automated, algorithm-driven software services for managing drone traffic across the country, he added.
The Union government had on September 15 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 on August 25 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.