Deciphering the Indian UTM policy framework

By Bhupinder S. Nijjar

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Government of India (GoI), via a notification on
Aug 25, 2021, had published the Indian Drone Rules, 2021.

The notification intends to regulate and control the commercial exploitation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in Indian airspace, and registration of all UASs has been made a mandatory requirement on the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) “Digital-Sky” platform.

Furthermore, the entire airspace is delineated into green, red and yellow zones and no prior permissions are required for the operation of a UAS in the green zone.

The UAS Traffic Management (UTM) aspects were specified in Part IX of the notification and aimed at facilitating automated permissions for operating the UAS and stipulated that a detailed policy framework would be issued within sixty days.

The same has now been published on Oct 24, 2021.

Certain key aspects of this policy framework aimed at identifying standards, facilitating communication among stakeholders and providing situational awareness up to 1000 feet altitude (VLL-Very Low Level) are:

 Third-party public or private entities known as the UTM Service Providers (UTMSP) would aid government entities in managing the drone traffic in the VLL zone. The policy aims at setting information sharing and data exchange standards, enabling multiple UTMSPs to operate in each zone. The UTMSPs would be permitted to operate with different pricing models, and a part of the fee would be shared with the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The approved UTMSPs and Supplementary Service Providers (SSPs) and manufacturers may be provided restricted access to Digital Sky via Application Programming Interface (API). This would enable them to provide a range of services, including registration of drones, flight planning, exemption processing, deconfliction and Insurance services using the Digital-Sky interface. All UASs would be mandatorily required to avail services of the government-approved UTMSPs and SSPs, with Nano UASs operating in green zones being the only exception.

 Various government agencies such as the DGCA, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), Airports Authority of India and the Air Defence Clearance issuing authority have been made stakeholders. Various law enforcement agencies would have access to the UTM ecosystem on a “need to know” basis.
 The Real-Time Identification and Tracking (RIT) is an aspirational requirement that has been projected with five minimum broadcast parameters that include the Unique Identification Number (UIN), Location data (Co-ordinates & Pressure Altitude), Timestamp, Heading & Ground Speed, Emergency Status (C2 Link Loss etc.)
 The system would allow for a manned-unmanned interface in Air Traffic Management (ATM) and UTM to provide separation minima under dynamic conditions and in accordance with ICAO recommendations.
 The GoI, as a part of its efforts at “evidence-based policy formation”, is expected to publish a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) for time-bound (maximum six months) UTM experiments. The UTMSPs would be invited to participate in these and propose technical requirements and various standards applicable to every part of the policy. This thereafter would be a basis for issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) and onboarding UTMSPs after a specified evaluation process.

This framework permits a stakeholder initiated consultative process and participation to modify and improve this framework as well as allow the private players to view this as a high-value business opportunity.