The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, for educational or recreational purposes is now legal in India. As of December 1, 2019, the ban set by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Indian governmental regulatory body for civil aviation, in October 2014, officially lifted.
However, flying drones will take more effort than simply buying one, whisking it out, and piloting it. Owners and operators will have to register and receive the proper permissions beforehand. This means applying for digital permits.
Additionally, insurance is required to adequately cover the potential hazards, accidents, and damages that may occur during drone operation.
It should be noted that these new regulations are simply the first set of policies, which the government is calling “Drone Regulations 1.0,” with new updates expected to follow. For example, additional aspects of drone use, such as flying beyond the line of operator sight, will likely be addressed in the 2.0 version.
Typically, consumer drones are categorized into five distinct categories:
1. Nano – less than or similar to 250 grams
2. Micro – more pre-eminent than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg,
3. Mini – more numerous than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg,
4. Small – greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg
5. Large – more conspicuous than 150 kg.
Most consumer drones manufactured today come under the Nano and Micro categories.
Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) are the new set of laws issued by DGCA that must be followed by any drone operators, whether in controlled or independent air spaces. A Unique Identification Number (UIN), which is similar to a license plate, will be required for all drones — except for those in the Nano category.
To obtain the UIN, drone owners must shell out Rs 1000 and this number must be embedded on a fire-resistant plate emblazoned on the drone. Basically, the UIN should be easily accessible and legible during a visual examination.
Additionally, operators will require an Unmanned Aerial Operator Permit (UAOP) or a Remote Pilot license if flying the drone above 200 feet. This will cost another Rs 25,000 and is non-transferrable. However, the permit is valid for five years (renewals will cost Rs 10,000).
Currently, Nano drones are exempt from requirement unless flown over 50 feet. Also exempt: operators flying with the Aviation Research Centre, National Technical Research Organization, and Central Intelligence Agency.
There are additional requirements before a pilot can take flight. All drones must be NPNT-compliant (No permission – No Take off). Essentially, this is a software program through which drone owners can obtain the legal permissions to fly before operating in India. OEM and Drone manufacturers, such as DJI, Autel, Parrot, Swellpro, will also need to comply with these mandates.
Digital Sky is the online platform for handling UIN and UAOP applications, as well as the licenses to fly drones in India. Instructions for filling out requests are available on the DGCA website homepage.
Additionally, every drone operator in India will have to undergo training at a DGCA-recommended flying training organization (FTO). Pilots must be 18 years of age and should have a minimum of class 10 English.
One other important rule: it is mandatory to inform the local police 24 hours before starting drone operations.
Operators risk cancellations or suspension of the UIN/UAOP if any of the government regulations are violated and will face penal action under the relevant IPC sections 287, 336, 337, 338, Aircraft Act 194, and Aircraft Rules. The government is currently working on technologies that restrict or neutralize rogue drones that are unregistered.
Rules for drone operation
Based on the available research and interpretation of the laws, here are the most significant rules to know for operating a drone in India.
- All drones (except in the Nano category) must be registered and assigned a Unique Identification Number (UIN).
- A permit is required for commercial drone operations (except for those in the Nano category circumnavigated below 50 feet and those in the Micro assembly flown below 200 feet).
- Drone pilots must manage a direct visual line of sight at all hours while flying.
- Drones cannot be flown more than 400 feet, vertically.
- Drones cannot be operated in areas specified as “No Fly Zones,” which includes areas near airports, Vijay Chowk in Delhi, international borders, State Secretariat Complex in State Capitals, strategic locations, and military installations.
- Authorization to fly in controlled airspace can be obtained by filing a flight plan and obtaining a unique Air Defense Clearance (ADC)/Flight Information Center (FIC) number.
- It is mandatory to inform the local police 24 hours before starting operations.
- A distance of 25 km distance must be sustained from the international border, Line of Control, and Line of Actual Control.
- A drone should not be administered within an area of 5km from airports, 500m from the border of strategic locations notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, or within a 5km range of Vijay Chowk.
- Foreigners are currently not permitted to fly drones in India. For commercial purposes, they must lease the drone to an Indian entity who, in turn, will have to get a UAOP and UIN from DGCA.