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After a couple of years of deliberation and ending a long period of ambiguity and confusion, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the authority which regulates the civil aviation in India, has finally announced its policy for remotely piloted aircraft or drones. The policy has come into effect from December 1, 2018, the new policy defines what will be classified as remotely piloted aircraft, how they can be flown and the restrictions they will have to operate under.

Although the regulations released by the DGCA is a bit tougher than those followed in countries like USA and Canada, the policy has made clear that India is embracing the new age of drones with open arms. The framework put forward by DGCA will certainly encourage commercial usage of drones in various sectors including e-commerce, delivery, agriculture, industrial monitoring, photography and more. In fact, when it comes to formally adopting commercial usage of drones, India has even beaten some of the developed countries by releasing its framework and regulations before them.

What are drones?

A drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft. Drones are more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Essentially, a drone is a flying robot. The aircrafts may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS.

In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services.

How Drones Work?

A typical unmanned aircraft is made of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. This composite material strength allows military drones to cruise at extremely high altitudes. Drones are equipped with different state of the art technology such as infra-red cameras (military UAV), GPS and laser (military UAV). Drones are controlled by remote control system also sometimes referred to as ground cockpit.

An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigational systems are present. The rest of the body is full of drone technology systems since there is no need for space to accommodate humans.  The engineering materials used to build the drone are highly complex composites which can absorb vibration which decreases the noise produced. Many of the latest drones have dual Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as GPS and GLONASS.

Definition of Drones under the policy

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has defined drones as “an unmanned aircraft piloted from a remote pilot station”. The remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), command and control links and any other components forms a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).

Also, as per the civil aviation requirements – issued under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 – these Remotely Piloted Aircrafts (RPAs) shall have a Unique Identification Number (UIN), Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and need to adhere to other operational requirements.

Note:- All drones, other than in the nano category, shall apply to DGCA for import clearance and based on that Directorate General of Foreign Trade shall issue license for import of RPAS.

What is Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP)?

Operators of civil drones will need to get a permit from the DGCA. There are exceptions for:

  • Nano RPA operating below 50 feet (15 m) in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises.
  • Micro RPA operating below 200 feet (60 m) in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises – but shall inform local police 24 hours prior to such flight.
  • RPA owned and operated by National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Defence and Civilian Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) and Central Intelligence Agencies but after intimating local police.

The DGCA has to issue the UAOP within seven working days provided all the documents are complete. This UAOP shall be valid for five years and non transferrable in nature. The policy also stipulates that RPAs shall be flown only by someone over 18 years of age, having passed 10th exam in English, and undergone ground/ practical training as approved by DGCA.

How can drones be operated in India?

The basic operating procedure will restrict drone flights to the daytime only and that too within “Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)”. This applies to all categories. Also, along with other Standard operating procedures (SOPs), the DGCA has clarified that no remote pilot can operate more than one RPA at any given time. Plus, manned aircraft will get priority over RPAs. There can’t be any human or animal payloads, or anything hazardous. It cannot in any manner cause danger to people or property. An insurance blanket will be mandatory to cover third-party damages.

What are the restrictions in place for drones in India?

  • RPAs cannot be flown within 5km of the perimeters of the airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and within 3km from the perimeter of any other airport.
  • It cannot fly within “permanent or temporary Prohibited, Restricted and Danger Areas” and within 25km from international border which includes the Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
  • It cannot fly beyond 500 m into sea from the coast line and within 3 km from perimeter of military installations.
  • It cannot fly within a 5 km radius of the Vijay Chowk in Delhi, within 2 km from perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by Ministry of Home Affairs and within 3 km from radius of State Secretariat Complexes.
  • It also cannot be operated from a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft.
  • Eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are off-limits without prior permission.

Violations will be acted on under relevant sections of the IPC and the Aircraft Act 1934.

Drone Regulation in India

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in 2014, prohibited the use of drones in India for civil purposes. In April 2016, the DGCA released its initial draft guidelines for drone regulation followed by the updated draft guidelines in November 2017. Government of India’s Ministry of Civil aviation recently announced guidelines on drones which will come into effect from 1 December 2018

Key features of “Drone Regulations 1.0”:

  • Digital Sky platform to be established: It is the national unmanned traffic management (UTM) platform that implements a ‘no permission, no takeoff’ system for remotely piloted aircraft.
  • The UTM platform operates as a traffic regulator in the drone airspace and coordinates closely with the defence and civilian air traffic controllers (ATCs) to ensure that drones remain on approved flight paths.
  • Users will be required to make one-time registration of their drones, pilots and owners on the platform, which will also allow for online filing of a drone’s specific flight path and use.
  • Other than nano, all other categories of drones need to be registered with the government and issued with a Unique Identification Number (UIN).
  • Beyond these permissions, an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) is also required for drone operators, except for nano-drones operating below 50 feet and micro-drones operating below 200 feet.


Air space has been divided into different zones.

Red Zone: Flying not permitted

Yellow Zone: Controlled airspace — permission required before flying

Green Zone: Uncontrolled airspace — automatic permission

There are also specific regions around the country that have been marked as ‘No Drone Zones’.


Drone regulations 2.0

The government has announced that it will soon come up with Drone Regulations 2.0. Key issues to be addressed there would include:

  • Certifications of sale and controlled operation of drone hardware and software
  • Airspace management through automated operations linked into the overall airspace
  • Beyond visual-line-of-sight operations
  • Guidelines and contribution for establishing global standards


Application of Drones

  • Defense: Drones are been extensively used in defence sector. They can be put to use for different missions such as surveillance, battlefield reconnaissance, artillery correction, target tracking etc. Drone like Prox Dynamics is quite famous for military use around the world, including the US Marines, the British Army, the Australian Army, and Norway’s Armed Forces for exploration. Important drones in India include Lakshya, Daksh, and Rustom
  • Agriculture: Drones are able to provide live data from a range of sensors (including multispectral, NIR and lidar) and help in precision agriculture. In supporting precision farming, drones can do soil health scans, monitor crop health, assist in planning irrigation schedules, apply fertilizers, estimate yield data and provide valuable data for weather analysis. Companies such as Skymet are using drones to provide agriculture survey services to insurance companies and the state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh
  • Wildlife Conservation: Drones fitted with high definition thermal cameras are used to track, inspect and monitor livestock remotely. The government of Assam has partnered with Tata Consulting Services (TCS) to use drones to conduct surveillance, identify unauthorized settlements and to deter poachers in Kaziranga National Park
  • Mining: Drones have helped in solving challenges in the mining industry which include better blast optimization, improved safety, faster surveying, and construction of the comprehensive and continuous project data sets.
  • Rescue and Search during disasters: Drones can scan affected areas with their thermographic cameras to locate missing persons. Their reduced dimensions allow them to go to places that are hard to reach and find isolated persons; they can also deliver food and water to survivors.
  • Urban Planning: Drones provide instant mapping and ready to use data which aid in urban planning. For example drones can help city planners to decide which areas may benefit most from green space, without causing further congestion.
  • Healthcare: Drones can help in quick access to drugs, blood, and medical technology in remote areas. Companies like Zipline International have especially designed drones to deliver medical services in rural areas.
  • Weather Forecasting: Drones can help provide real time data of weather events. A company called Saildrone has developed autonomous sailboat drone that can collect oceanic and atmospheric data from the ocean surface which can be used to understand the environment and imminent weather trends.
  • Waste Management: Drones can help city administrators to identify where the garbage is so that it can be picked up the garbage picking vans. It can be also used to clean ocean waste. UAV like Roomba by Ran Marine have helped to clean oceans.
  • Inspections – Many systems such as power lines, wind turbines, and pipelines can be checked by drones.
  • Surveillance – A drone allows recording and monitoring from the sky, and therefore, they are suitable to monitor public events, protests, or any suspicious happening without being heard and seen. A great tool for the police!
  • Science & research– They help scientists a lot in research works to observe different occurrences in nature or a particular environment from the sky. For example, drones are used to document the archaeological excavations, in nuclear accidents (measuring contamination), in glacier surveillance, to observe a volcanic eruption, etc.
  • E-Commerce Delivery: Amazon prime in USA has been delivering products to customers using drones

Various concerns related to the use of drones

  • Surveillance by means of drones raises significant issues for privacy and civil liberties
  • Drones being turned into potential weapons by criminals/ terrorists are another serious issue
  • Biggest safety threat from drones is potential collisions with airplanes. While most airports ban drones from flying near them, such rules may potentially be hard to enforce and can often cause serious damages.
  • Data theft/ Hacking: Drones can not only be hacked in flight, causing them to crash, the craft also can be used for stealing sensitive information from the public.
  • There are also ethical and legal issues related to drone warfare. USA has used drones for targeted killing of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and in Afghanistan. The growing number of civilian casualties has raised the question of the efficacy of drone strikes in killing militants and also on human rights.
  • Irresponsible drone use could cause harm to birds by disrupting nests, provoking attacks and midair collisions

Legal implication of use and development of drones in India

Although India does not have any concrete laws vis-i-vis Drones yet, there are various legal implications the existing laws may have on the operation of drones. Therefore, the legislators should also take into account different concerns, which may be presented due to the prospective regulations’ interaction with the existing legal framework, as set out below, and work to incorporate them into the necessary legislations.

Intellectual property Rights

As more and more advanced drones are invented with unique utilities, it opens up avenues for protection by the grant of patents. For example, Amazon, one of the leading e-commerce websites, has applied for a patent for its delivery system drone that delivers products to the customer’s doorstep within 30 minutes of the order. Boeing also obtained a patent for its “flying submarine” drone which is adaptable for both flight and water travel

Tax Related Aspects of Drones

Developments in technology, internet, cloud computing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and IoT have given rise to various tax issues globally. There has been significant litigation in this respect, especially in relation to characterization of income and withholding taxes. Another emerging area where such issues that is likely to come up, is the usage of drones.


Critics are of the opinion that since the Centre has not allowed the use of drones for delivery of goods and food items, it will hinder its usage in the e-commerce and logistics industry. Critics have also criticised the blanket restriction on the height limit of 400 feet. According to them, this would restrict the drones to amateur usage only and would hinder its use in mapping or surveying. Despite such criticism one must not fail to realise that the drones industry has a potential of providing an economic boost along with attracting global investments. The economic benefits also play into the need to innovate, potentially not only delivering better drones, but associated inventions as well. However, the rise of drones has presented several policy challenges in terms of personal privacy, public safety, international airspace, civil rights etc. Thus, the success of drones would depend on achieving a symbiotic integration of law, tax and civil liberties. As drones gain more popularity in the eyes of the public and garner support for potential markets, a timely institution of robust and flexible drone regulations would go a long way towards tapping into and building upon this opportunity. Taking lessons from history, different stakeholders should come together and work towards providing a comprehensive policy framework for drone regulation so as to ensure that a balance between innovation, progress and safety is adequately maintained.




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