Finally, drones can be legally operated in India from December 1, 2018. Globally, drones are commonly used in sectors such as ecommerce, agriculture, mining, power and infrastructure, defence and military, asset maintenance, insurance, film shooting, photography, etc.
From traffic surveillance and patrolling, the supply of medicines and food during natural disasters and emergencies, to just shooting a wedding, the potential of this industry cannot be underestimated.
The Flight So Far
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) recently unveiled the first National Drone Policy, 2018 (Drone Policy) which uplifts the ban imposed by the regulator itself in October 2014 on civil use of drones in India. The ban came following delivery of pizza by an eatery in Mumbai.
Owing to security concerns and absence of a policy framework, the DGCA had disallowed any civil use of drones until a policy was put in place. Following this, the DGCA released draft norms in April 2016 and November 2017, which were debated and deliberated by various stakeholders and which led to the final policy recently released. To help navigate common queries, the DGCA also released FAQs and Do’s and Don’ts for operating drones.
Popularly known as ‘drones’, an unmanned aircraft/ a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) has no human pilot on board and is piloted from a remote pilot station. The Drone Policy has categorised drones into five categories based on their maximum take-off weight and the payload:
Categorisation Of Drones Nano – Less than or equal to 250 grams.
Micro – Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg.
Small – Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg.
Medium – Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg.
Large – Greater than 150 kg.
Who Can Operate A Drone In India?
Due to security concerns, no foreign national or foreign entity can operate drones in India. They can, however, lease drones to Indian entities. Drones can also be operated by an Indian citizen, government or government-owned and controlled entities and/or an Indian entity owned and controlled by Indian nationals.
What Licenses Do You Need To Operate A Drone In India?
Drones can be imported in India or purchased locally. There are a host of regulatory licenses that are required for flying a drone, including a Unique Identification Number (UIN) / Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP), as applicable, from the DGCA; an equipment type approval from the Department of Telecommunication for operating in de-licensed frequency band(s); an import clearance and import license from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) (other than for Nano RPA ) from the DGCA (in case of import of drones in India), a security clearance from the ministry of home affairs (except in case of Government companies); etc.
Every drone will require a UIN and every drone operator will need a UAOP. To make drones commercially viable, certain categories of drones don’t need a UIN or UAOP.
A Nano RPA operating below 50 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) and Micro RPA operating below 200 feet AGL, each in an uncontrolled airspace and in enclosed premises in an uncontrolled airspace don’t need a UAOP.
Similarly, an RPA in the Nano category intended to fly up to 50 feet AGL in an uncontrolled airspace/enclosed premises for commercial/recreational/R&D purposes, are exempted from obtaining a UIN. Drones used for photography at weddings/cricket matches are likely to fall within the exemptions.
Who To Apply For Permits?
The Drone Policy has proposed an online platform to ease the licensing process. All applications for obtaining a UIN and a UAOP, will need to be filed through an online platform i.e., the Digital Sky Platform.
There is a one-time registration for drones, pilots as well as the owners. For every flight (exempted for the Nano category), users will be required to ask for permission to fly on a mobile app and an automated process will permit or deny the request instantly.
Specific timelines are prescribed for a UIN and a UAOP, though it is not clear if all regulatory approvals will be processed through this platform, and what the timelines would be. More clarity is expected on these aspects once the platform becomes operational.
Other Do’s And Don’ts For Drone Operators
Drones can be operated only during the day within visual line of sight and a maximum of 400 ft altitude operations. No drone zones/restricted areas or danger areas’ restricting the operations of drones have been prescribed.
Drones cannot be operated in sensitive areas such as near airports, border, international borders/line of control, eco-sensitive zones, etc. It can be operated by a remote pilot who has attained 18 years of age, completed High School (Std. X) in English and undergone ground as well as practical training.
Drones should not discharge or drop substances unless specifically permitted in the UAOP, nor should they transport any hazardous materials, animal or humans, unless permitted.
So, drones as of now cannot be used for delivery. A third party insurance is mandatory for any liability/damage to the third party due to an accident. The Drone Policy has also prescribed manufacturing standards for drones. Any violations will be penalised under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Aircraft Act, 1934.
The Future of Drones
The Drone Policy was a much-needed step for the growth of this industry. The Indian drone market is expected to be $885.7 million by 2021 and the global market size will touch $21.47 billion, as per a research by BIS Research (a global market intelligence and advisory firm). This puts forth an unprecedented opportunity for growth of drones as a new age technology, which can be used across sectors and industrial applications.
Drone pilots will emerge as a new field of specialisation. One would also hope that restrictions on complete foreign ownership and foreign entities to operate drones in India be eased for this sector to grow exponentially.
Rabindra Jhunjhunwala is Partner and Shweta Dwivedi is principal associate at Khaitan & Co. Disclaimer: The views of the author(s) in this article are personal and do not constitute legal/professional advice of Khaitan & Co. For any further queries or follow up please contact us at