The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation has been making efforts to establish a world-leading ecosystem for drones in India, for several years. To realize this vision, developing drone regulations in sync with the global standards was necessary. The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) had announced the Indian Drone Policy in August last year, which came into effect from December 1st, 2018.
“Today, we have taken the first step towards our vision of seeing millions of drones fly in India. Drones are a frontier technology which has the potential to leapfrog India’s economic growth. This technology can greatly benefit our farmers, infrastructure entities like railways, roads, ports, mines and factories, sectors like insurance, photography, entertainment, etc.”
Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Civil Aviation, Government of India
The Indian Drone Policy defines what is to be classified as Remotely Piloted Aircraft, how they can be flown and the regulations governing them. Here’s a look at the finer details for operating drones in India.
What are drones?
The DGCA has defined remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) as an unmanned aircraft piloted from a remote pilot station.
The policy further defines a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) as all the components of a RPA, its associated remote pilot station(s), command and control links and any other components involved.
The policy also states that “RPAs shall be flown only by someone over 18 years of age, having passed 10th exams in English, and undergone ground/ practical training as approved by DGCA”.
(Note: The terminologies currently in use for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles across the globe are Drones, UAS, RPAS, and UAV. In this article, “drones” have been used for RPAs mentioned in the Indian Drone Policy.)
Classification of Drones in India
The DGCA has classified drones into the following categories:
Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams.
Micro: From 250 grams to 2kg.
Small: From 2kg to 25kg.
Medium: From 25kg to 150kg.
Large: Greater than 150kg.
Application Process for import of drones in India
- Applicants who intend to import drones in India need Equipment Type Approval (ETA) from the Wireless Planning & Communication (WPC) Wing, Department of Telecommunication. This approval for operating in the de-licensed frequency band(s) will be valid for a specific make and model of RPA.
- The applicant, other than Nano category, needs to apply to the DGCA for import clearance. Based upon the import clearance issued by DGCA, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) shall issue the license for import of drones in India.
- Once the license for import of drones in India is received, the applicant will have to apply to the DGCA for UIN or UAOP, as applicable.
Before flying Drones in India
Similar to the registration number for a car, every drone bigger than Nano must obtain a unique identification number (UIN) from the aviation regulator. The UIN must be displayed on the aircraft.
It should be noted that:
- UIN can be issued only once.
- A fee of 1000 INR will be charged.
- UIN will not be issued to a foreign citizen or entity.
Unique Air Operator’s Permit (UAOP)
Similar to a driver’s license, the users of bigger drones in India will be required to obtain a Unique Air Operator’s Permit (UAOP).
It should be noted that:
- The UAOP will cost 25,000 INR.
- It will be valid for 5 years.
- The renewal of the permit will cost 10,000 INR.
From where to obtain UIN & UAOP
Before flying drones in India, users need to register themselves and their drones on Digital Sky– National Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform. The Digital Sky Platform, a first of its kind in India, is responsible for implementing ‘no permission, no take-off’ (NPNT) which is a novel software-based self-enforcement system to minimize deviations from the CAR (Civil Aviation Regulations). According to the DGCA officials, the permits will be issued in less than a week, provided all the documents are complete.
Drone operators can make the payments for Unmanned Aerial Operator’s Permit (UAOP) and Unique Identification Numbers (UIN) through the Bharat Kosh portal of the Indian Government.
With respect to obtaining a permit for flying drones in India, there are certain exceptions. The following categories of drones do not require a permit:
- Nano RPA operating below 50 feet in uncontrolled airspace or enclosed premises.
- Micro RPA operating below 200 feet in uncontrolled airspace or enclosed premises. However, the operators of these drones will have to inform the local police 24 hours prior.
- RPA owned and operated by NTRO, ARC and Central Intelligence Agencies but after intimating local police.
Conditions for flying Drones in India
The following conditions have been outlined for flying drones in India:
- All drones except the ones in the Nano category must meet mandatory equipment requirements such as GPS, anti-collision light, ID plate, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and SIM facilities with software that ensures ‘no-permission, no-takeoff’, apart from other features.
- Operators need to file a Flight Plan before flying small or big drones in India. Further, they need to inform the local police, following which the machine can reach a height of 400 ft or more, and use both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.
- Micro drones need to submit a Flight Plan only if they intend to use the controlled airspace. However, the operator must inform the local police in all cases.
- Nano drones will be able to operate freely, without any registration or permit. However, their operations will be restricted to 50 ft above the ground, and to uncontrolled airspaces and enclosed premises.
- A five-day training programme must be undertaken by all those requiring a UAOP. The training programme will make them aware of the governing regulations, air traffic and procedures, weather conditions, emergency handling etc.
- Before the operators are issued permits, they will have to take written tests and flight simulator tests.
- All categories of drones in India must be flown only during the daytime – in the “Visual Line of Sight” (VLOS).
No Fly Zones for Drones in India
The regulatory authority has listed 12 categories of No Drone Zones for operating drones in India which have been mentioned below:
- Area up to 5 km from the perimeters of the high-traffic airports of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.
- Drones cannot fly closer than 25 km of international borders, which includes the Line of Control and Line of Actual Control.
- Area within a 5-km radius of New Delhi’s Vijay Chowk. (Subject to restrictions that may be imposed for security reasons.)
- Within 2 km from the perimeter of strategic locations and vital installations notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs. (Unless the ministry clears it.)
- Within a 3 km radius of secretariat complexes in state capitals.
- From a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft.
- Beyond 500 m into the sea from the Indian coastline and within 3 km from the perimeter of military installations.
- Without prior permission from the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, the eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are off-limits.
Safety Requirements for flying Drones in India
The following pre-requisites have been outlined by the regulatory body w.r.t safe and secure operation of drones in India:
- The operator will be solely responsible for the safe custody, security and access control of the RPAS. In case of loss of RPA, the operator must report immediately to the local police office, BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security), and DGCA.
- Except the Nano RPA, the operator of all RPAs needs to notify any accident or incident that involves RPA to the Director of Air Safety, DGCA who will further inform all the concerned agencies.
- If the RPA is damaged and restoring it to the original condition is not possible, the operator must notify the same to the DGCA for cancellation of the UIN.
- Before the operation of each flight, the drone operator needs to ensure that all security measures as outlined in the BCAS approved Security Programme are in place.
- Unlawful interference or deliberate damage must be prevented at all costs at the ground control station, while in use or store.
- Without the prior approval from the DGCA, the drones issued with the UIN cannot be sold or disposed-off in any manner to any individual.
- The DGCA and other concerned agencies must be notified immediately of any changes in the contact details specified in the UIN.
How can international drone manufacturers enter the Indian Drone Market?
According to the DGCA guidelines, foreign companies or entities cannot directly operate drones in India. For commercial purpose, they need to hire out or lease drones to an Indian entity who will then obtain the Unique Identification Number (UIN) and UAOP from the DGCA.
The UIN will be granted to the following entities:
- Indian citizens, central and state governments apart from state-owned and controlled companies.
- Corporates registered and having their principal place of business in India.
- Corporates whose effective control or substantial ownership is with the Indian nationals.
- A company with its chairman and at least two-thirds of directors being Indian citizens.
As stated by the DGCA, the companies registered outside India will obtain the UIN only if they have leased the drones to any of the eligible entities.
A Drone Federation of India has been created as the ‘Voice of the Indian Drone Industry’. This premier trade association aims to act as a “bridge between the industry and regulators to ensure safe skies and exponential technology adoption”.
Energy Dais: Simplifying Drones in India
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Click here to go through the Indian Drone Policy in detail.
For Frequently Asked Questions w.r.t drones in India, click here.
Click here to understand the procedures followed w.r.t drones in India.
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