Drone laws
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This article is written by Shubhangi Upmanya, a student of Vivekananda Institute of professional studies, Indraprastha University. In it, she has described the evolution and implications of the laws concerning the activities of drones in India.


With the advancement in new technologies, there comes along the challenges. The necessity of new laws starts to be felt because these challenges bring with it many legal implications. Talking about new technology, we witness drones flying in the air. Did the question regarding its legality come into your mind or do you know what laws govern it? 

We will discuss all of these questions in this article. But first, let us start with the introduction of drones. What are drones called?

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Drones are known as Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). Now, which body regulates its functions? So, Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) that are issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) governs its activities.

India initially banned drones because there were no regulations made regarding it but like many countries, India also came up with the draft regulations concerning the activities of drones in the year 2016.

Let us now discuss the history of the laws concerning the activities of drones.

Background of the laws governing the Drones

Considering other countries, drones in India also have many multiple applications in the civilian domain. The drones in the commercial sector can be used for mapping and gathering information whereas in addition to the commercial domain it also has its use in the military domain where its uses include surveillance, collection and interpretation of matters for intelligence. 

The emergence of the technology of drones faced many legal ramifications because of the absence of the rules and the legal standards regulating the use of drones. The first document on the laws governing the activities of the drone came in the form of public notice. It was issued by the Office of the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and was notified in the year 2014. This notification made it mandatory to take permission to operate the drone for civil purposes. 

The permission on the subject had to be taken from the AAI (Air Navigation Service provider), defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, and any other security agencies concerned. The other security agencies will not include the DGCA. 

Now, this was the first related document in the form of a notification, as mentioned earlier two years later the first draft regulation was introduced on 21 April 2016. These guidelines were on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAVs) for civilian or recreational purposes. This circular was open to the comments of the various stakeholders. The period for which was decided by the ministry of civil aviation to be of 21 days. 

After one and a half years, in the month of October in the year, 2017 came the second regulations. These guidelines also invited comments with the aim to get itself finalized by the end of that year that is December 2017. These guidelines are known to have improved some topics and issues in those regulations passed in the year 2016 but still, they left out some issues like legal liability, privacy, trespass and import controls.

Many people believe that these guidelines were only introduced so as to end the policy gap that developed due to the blanket ban on the use of drones by civilians. Also that these guidelines were not having the foresight and were just introduced because of the sake to fulfil the necessity.

Scrutiny of the regulations of 2017

These regulations seemed to have been only concentrated on the interference of the UAVs in the operations of the commercial aircraft. It failed to take into consideration the interference caused by two operating drones and the threat to life and property that could result from such situations. It is sensed that in the near future the number of drones will be way more than the commercial aircraft and in that case, a mechanism ensuring the safe operation of drones at low altitudes had to be addressed by these guidelines but it failed to do so. 

Points addressed in these guidelines 

Let us discuss some regulations which have to be followed according to this draft regulation:

  • Drone operators to get their drone to operate in the air will be needed to get a Unique Identification Number (UIN) for their UAV also, the drones will have to pass the security clearance. The security clearance will be given by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • The operator of the drone will have to obtain the UIN only after the documents are submitted. 
  • The document should provide the purpose for which the operation is to be conducted, specifications of the drones. 
  • These specifications must include- the name of the manufacturer, its type, the year in which it was manufactured, the kind of propulsion system fixed along with the weight and size of the drone has to be provided. 
  • Flying capabilities will have to be submitted like height, the capacity to endure, the range up to which it will be in operation, and equipment capabilities. 
  • Copy of the flight manual along with the guidelines regarding the maintenance should be submitted. 
  • The maintenance guidelines should be those that are issued by the manufacturer.
  • These documents have to be verified with the verification proofs. 
  • The UIN should be present physically on the drone and electronic or digital identification will not be required. 
  • This may be done as this makes it easier for authorities to trace the ownership of a drone. It could be helpful if any drone is recovered in an accident.
  • The assignment of the UIN will be subject to security clearance. In this regulation, the specification of the basis of this clearance is not provided and the circular simply states that such situations will be dealt with on the basis of deciding how the case is.
  • Drone operators flying UAVs on height above 200 feet above ground level should also obtain an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from the DGCA.
  • Drone operators flying drones below 200 feet in controlled airspace will have to take permission only from the local administration.

In the 2016 regulations, only 15 Mini and Micro drones were needed to be operated along with Visual Line of Sight (VLOS). While 2017 regulations make it mandatory that all UAVs, irrespective of weight category have to be operated along with the VLOS and thus keeping it maintained. These guidelines reduced the no-fly zone area around Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, from 30 km (2016 guidelines) to 5 km (2017 regulations). 

Further, the 2017 guidelines specify these regulations:

  • All UAV operators need to follow the rules related to restricted/controlled airspaces.
  • Any danger areas that are specified by the Aeronautical Information Publication (by DGCA) or the Ministry of Civil Aviation will have to be taken into consideration. 
  • The radius of the no-fly zones has to be according to the prescribed radius by the MHA.
  • The military installations were also reduced to 500 meters. 

Relevant regulations concerning Remotely Piloted Aircraft(RPAs)

During drafting, some regulations concerning Remotely Amphibian Vehicle(RAV)/UAV are to be dealt with:

  • CAR Section 3 (Air Transport Series- X Part 1);
  • AIP Supplement 164 published by the Airports Authority of India; and
  • The DGCA RPAS Guidance Manual notified by the DGCA.

Let us discuss each of them now.

Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) Series X Part 3

(Section 3- Air Transport)

The CAR was issued through the provisions of 15A and 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. It basically provides for all the things that are required for obtaining-

  • Unique Identification Number (UIN). 
  • Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP). 
  • Requirements for carrying out operations for civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). 

Talking about its applicability, the CAR is applicable to Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems.

Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems are remotely piloted from a Remote Pilot Station.

It provides for the definition for the following:

Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)- It is an unmanned aircraft and is put to test from a remote pilot station.

Further, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System has 3 components:

  1. remotely piloted aircraft, 
  2. its associated remote pilot station(s), 
  3. command and control links.

Categories of RPA 

RPA is categorized into different categories on the basis of Maximum All-Up-Weight (includes payload):


“Less than or equal to 250 grams”


“Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg”


“Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg”.


“Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg”


“Greater than 150 kg”

Application Process 

Under this heading, we will look at the application procedure which has to be followed.

In the case of RPA imported to India- 

  • Any entity who is intending to import RPAs to India will have to obtain Equipment Type Approval (ETA).
  • This RPAs has to be obtained from WPC Wing, Department of Telecommunication for operating in the de-licensed frequency band(s). 
  • The approval has to be valid for a particular make and model. 
  • The applicant will apply to DGCA for import clearance.
  • The application for the same has to be as per the format given in Annexure-IA
  • DGFT will then issue the license for the import of RPAs.
  • The license will be given on the basis of the import clearance issued by DGCA. 
  • The applicant will apply to DGCA for UIN/ UOAP after the receipt of the import license is received.

 In the case of locally purchased RPAs:

  • The applicant will have to make certain that locally purchased RPAs should have Equipment Type Approval(ETA) from WPC Wing, DoT operating in the de-licensed frequency band(s). 
  • This approval will be valid for a particular make and model. 
  • The applicant will have to submit information according to the format given in Annexure-IB.
  • The information has to be submitted along with an application for the issue of UIN/ UAOP, as applicable. 
  • All applications will be processed on deciding how the case is.
  • This could be done through the means of “Digital Sky Platform”. 


Requirements for the issue of Unique Identification Number (UIN) 

The owner of the RPAs should be:

  • a citizen of India; 
  • the Central Government or any State Government;
  • any company or corporation owned or controlled by the Central Government or any State Government;
  • a company or a corporate body: 

i) it has to be registered and have its head office in India; 

ii) the chairman of the company with at least two-thirds of its Board of Directors should be citizens of India; and

iii) the company’s substantial ownership and effective control is vested in the citizens of India;

  • In case a company or corporation registered outside India, then that company or corporation should have leased the RPAs to any organization mentioned above. 

Documents Required 

  • Contact details of the owner/ lessee with valid CIN (Corporate Identity Number), GSTIN(Goods and Services Tax Identification Number) and/ or PAN card will have to be provided. 
  • The purpose & base of operation.
  • All the specifications of RPAs have to be provided for the application. 
  • The weight of the payload.
  • RPA’s load-carrying capacity.
  • Flight Manual of RPAs.
  • Manufacturer’s Operating Manual. 
  • Maintenance guidelines provided by Manufacturers for RPAs. 
  • The certificate of compliance for No permission- No take off (NPNT) of the manufacturer. 

As we know that the operations related to the use of drones should be carried out keeping in mind the safety measures and to ensure that no one gets hurt through such operations.

Let us look at the safety measures which this document provides for:

  • The operator of the drone will be responsible for the safety and security.
  • Also, the safety needs of the RPA’s access control has to be in order.
  • In case the RPA is lost, the operator should straightaway inform the local police office, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, and DGCA about it. 
  • The operator of all RPA (except Nano RPA) will be responsible for informing about any accident of RPA to the Director of Air Safety, DGCA.
  • The Director of Air Safety, DGCA will further intimate to all concerned agencies.
  • In case, the RPA gets damaged and is in the condition that it cannot retain its original form, it should be immediately notified to DGCA by the owner/ operator so that the cancellation of UIN can be done.
  • The RPAs operator should make certain that all security measures that are set forth in the Security Programme are in order before the operation of each flight takes place. 
  • The ground control station (either in use or in-store) should be secured from sabotage or unlawful interference. 
  • Without permission from DGCA, the RPAs (issued with UIN) will not be sold or disposed-off in any way to any person or firm. 
  • If there are any changes in the contact details mentioned in UIN then the same shall be immediately notified to DGCA and all other concerned agencies.

Further, the RPA operator should carry out a safety risk assessment which includes:

  • Hazard identification.
  • Determination of grave disorder.
  • The likelihood that it could be a threat during the operation.
  • Mitigation measures to reduce the already identified risk.
  • Verification of actions used for eliminating hazards during operations should be done. 
  • The operator has to keep the emergency operation zone under full control.

Now, to keep the privacy matters in view, these guidelines also provide for certain limitations so that no RAV tries to collect any information which may harm the country or an individual’s privacy. 

Operating Limitations

Within the following specified areas, no operations of the drones such as mere flying of the RPA or the carrying out of the aerial photography/remote sensing survey should be conducted. However, permission from DGCA can be taken. The grant of such permission will be on the basis of the nature of the case.

  • Inside the distance of 5 km encompassing airports at-
  1. Mumbai,
  2. Delhi,
  3. Chennai,
  4. Kolkata,
  5. Bengaluru, and
  6. Hyderabad.
  • Inside the distance of 3 km encompassing any private, civil and defence airports (excluding the airports mentioned above);
  • Beyond the PANS-OPS and Obstacle Limitation Surfaces of an operational aerodrome, (whichever is lower). It may be specified by the Ministry of Civil Aviation through Height Restrictions for Safeguarding of Aircraft Operations Rules, 2015. This will also include the amendment that may be done from time to time;
  • Within the area which is permanently or temporarily prohibited or restricted and could be termed as a danger area. It also includes Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and Transportation Security Administration, as per the notification issued by Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP);
  • Inside 25km from Line of Control, Line of Actual Control and Actual Ground Position Line; 
  • Horizontally, beyond 500 meters from the coastline, in the sea. The condition for the same is that the ground station should be on the fixed platform over land;
  • Inside 3 km encompassing any installation or facility where military exercise is carried out. However, clearance can be obtained from the local military installation; 
  • Within a 5 km radius from Vijay Chowk in Delhi. Also, this will be as per any additional conditions or restrictions which the local law enforcement authorities may impose for security reasons; 
  • Within 2 km encompassing any locations or installations that are vital and are notified by the M.H.A. However, clearance can be obtained from MHA; 
  • Within 3 km encompassing State Capital’s State Secretariat Complex; 
  • The area around the eco-sensitive zones of the Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change will give notification regarding the areas. However, prior permission can be taken. 

Let us finally look at some legal aspects concerning it given under CAR.

Legal obligations

As already mentioned the DGCA issue UIN and/ or UAOP but there are restrictions to it such as- 

  1. Rights should be issued to the RPA operator with a view that it does not go against any right of the owner or resident of any land or building or over which the operations will be conducted. 
  2. Also while issuing it, the rights and remedies which a person may have in respect of any injury to persons or damage to property caused directly or indirectly by the RPA should also be taken into consideration.
  3. The State Law if provides for certain limitations considering the rights of any person, the issue should be granted according to that Local Law.
  4. If under any circumstances there is a violation of the guidelines of the CAR, UIN/ UAOP issued by DGCA shall be suspended or cancelled. 
  5. Legal penalties under the Indian Penal Code will also be imposed in case of breach of provisions of CAR or falsification of any record or document.
  6. The Sections of the I.P.C under which the punishment may be given are 287, 336, 337, 338 or any other relevant section.

Now, we shall move towards discussing the second set of guidelines regulating the operation of drones.

AIP Supplement 164 of 2018 

These guidelines provide general operating procedures. Before getting started to discuss the procedures, the categories provided under these guidelines are the same as mentioned above in the article when discussing CAR.

General operating procedures

  • All the RPA will have to obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN) from DGCA.


RPA in Nano category flying at a maximum of 50 ft AGL in uncontrolled airspace and National Technical Research Organisation, Aviation Research Centre and Central Intelligence Agency (NTRC, ARC, CIA) operated RPA.

  • Every RPA will have to get an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from DGCA. 


Except for Nano RPA and Micro RPA operating in uncontrolled airspace, below 50 ft AGL and 200 ft AGL respectively. NTRO, ARC and CIA operated RPA also is the exception.

  • Every RPA operator will have to inform the local police office concerned. It should be informed in writing before commencing the operations. 


Except for Nano RPA carrying out operations at a maximum of 50 ft AGL.

  • As per Section 9 of CAR, only the remote pilots who have attained 18 years of age, passed 10th class exam in English and who are trained for the ground and practical operations will be allowed to operate the RPA.

Exception- Except for Remote Pilots who are to operate in uncontrolled airspace, any RPA belonging to Nano or Micro category.

  •  In uncontrolled airspace, if any owner, operator or remote pilot of RPA is planning to operate, he should acknowledge his responsibilities regarding all aspects of flight safety which could be foreseen, during such operations.

Exception- owner, operator and remote pilot intending to operate RPA belonging to Nano and Micro category.

Equipment required

When the RPA has to be operated in uncontrolled airspace:

  1. Global Navigation Satellite System For horizontal and vertical position fixing 
  2. Autonomous Flight Termination System or Return Home option (RH) 
  3. Flashing anti-collision strobe lights 
  4. Radio Frequency Identification and GSM SIM Card
  5. NPNT(No Permission- No Takeoff) compliance for application-based real-time tracking
  6. Fire-resistant identification plate inscribed with UIN 
  7. Flight controller with flight data logging capability

When the RPA has to be operated in controlled airspace-

  1. Secondary Surveillance Radar(SSR) transponder (Mode ‘C’ or ‘S’) or ADS-B OUT(automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) equipment; 
  2. Barometric equipment with capability for remote subscale setting; 
  3. Geo-fencing capability; 
  4. Detection and Avoid capability. 

Further during operations in controlled airspace the RPA operator in order to ensure that the operation is running smoothly has to develop two-way communication with the ATS unit. While running the operation in controlled airspace the remote operator has to build the communication channel before entering the controlled airspace.

Now, the question is what will be the means of communication? So, for VLOS operations below 400 ft. AGL the telephone can act as a relevant means of communication between the operator and the ATS unit.

Advancing in the following guidelines, we may notice there is a mention of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Let us look at what all has to be provided by the remote operator to constitute SOP.

Standard Operating Procedures

It includes the following:

  • The information about the launch and recovery of RPA; 
  • Avoidance of the collision with other manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft, and obstacles; 
  • Noise abatement; 
  • Mitigation of hazard to persons or property; 
  • Restrictions regarding local airspace; 
  • Right-of-way; 
  • Compliance to NPNT requirements;
  • Carriage of Payload; 
  • Protection of privacy of every individual; 
  • Submission of Flight Plan; 
  • Building communication channels with ATC; 
  • RPA emergency including loss of C2(command and control link) link and safe recovery of RPA in case of RPA system failure.

Digital Sky Platform

What is the digital sky platform?

Well, it is an online IT platform that is developed for handling UIN, UAOP applications. It also gives permission to fly RPAs in India. The link for which is available on the Homepage of DGCA website www.dgca.nic.in.

It came into operation from 1st December 2018. The Digital Sky Platform can be accessed through mobile or web-based applications. These applications will be provided by any authorized Digital Sky Service Providers (DSP).

The guidelines regarding it are provided in the guidelines given under the AIP Supplement 164 of 2018 which are as follows:

  • All the RPA intending to operate up to 50 ft. (15 m) AGL in uncontrolled airspace or enclosed premises should obtain permission through the Digital Sky Platform before the flight is undertaken.

It includes- RPA owned or operated by NTRO, ARC and Central Intelligence Agencies, RPA operators.

It excludes- flights of Nano RPAs operator.

  • RPA Operators have to submit a flight plan of RPA flights they are intending to undertake. This will be done through the Digital Sky Platform for obtaining operational approval. 
  • Further, what will Digital Sky do is, indicate whether the proposed flight comes under RED, AMBER or GREEN Zones. By this, it will help to provide the required guidance for further approval, if required.

Provision of Air Traffic Services

  • Until the separation standards are set and provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization or DGCA, Air Traffic Services is not under any obligation to provide separation between manned and unmanned aircraft or between two unmanned aircraft. 
  • And the unmanned aircraft until such standards are published, will be allowed to operate in segregated airspace. The airspace for it should be clear of the flight paths of manned IFR(Instrument Flight Rules) flights.
  • RPAs operating in VLOS will be called “VFR flights” and it will operate below 400 ft. AGL in uncontrolled and controlled airspace and below OLS/PANS-OPS surfaces in the proximity of airports but outside the No Drone Zones (NDZ). 
  • The flight crew of running the operations of the manned IFR and VFR flights should be aware of the possibility of RPAs flights below 400 ft. AGL.
  • Those RPA operators who are intending to carry out operations within controlled airspace with SSR transponder connected into RPA equipped will be required to obtain SSR code before the operations of the flight are commenced.
  • The Code can be obtained from the nearest ATC center.
  • If ATC requires, the remote pilot will have to switch off the transponder in order to avoid the generation of alarms on Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems (ACAS) and Air Traffic Control Systems.

Let us move on to discussing the last set of guidelines.

The DGCA RPAs Guidance Manual

This guidance manual in its first Chapter provides for the requirement for the acquisition of the RPAs. We have already discussed these requirements under the heading CAR.

So, let us move forward to discussing Chapter 2. This Chapter provides for the provisions related to Unique Identification Number.

Unique Identification Number(UIN)

  • All RPAs will have to obtain UIN (Except Nano flying up to 50 ft. in uncontrolled and enclosed premises and RPA owned by NTRO, ARC and Central Intelligence Agencies).
  • All others, except for the foreign entities are fully eligible for applying for obtaining UIN. 
  • Import clearance should be obtained from DGCA and also the import license from DGFT is required before applying for UIN in the case of imported RPAs.
  • In the case of locally purchased RPAs, ETA from WPC along with NPNT compliance certificate from the original equipment manufacturer has to be obtained in order to apply for UIN. 
  • Required supporting documents have to be attached to the filled application for UIN. The fee for which is Rs. 1000/- and has to be submitted through the Digital sky platform. 

The eligible applicant, after obtaining UIN can apply for UAOP through the Digital Sky platform.

The following do not need to obtain UAOP:

  1. Nano RPA operates below 50 feet (15 m) AGL in uncontrolled airspace.
  2. Micro RPA operating below 200 feet (60 m) AGL in uncontrolled airspace premises.
  3. RPA owned and operated by the NTRO, ARC and Central Intelligence agencies. 


Imagine the future wherein the RPAs top up the abilities of human beings, or where it maps the calamities of the natural disaster and the most interesting- RPAs delivering food packages to you. Well, it is already been assumed by many that RPAs in the near future will enhance human mobility by flying where humans can’t reach easily.

After all this, the regulations regarding such operations have to be taken into due consideration but even after this many regulation drones can many times be seen flying in the airspace. Recently a public notice dated 13th January 2020 was published reminding the requirements present in CAR and giving an opportunity for the voluntary disclosure of such drones that are not registered. The Government is taking a step ahead to make it work the way it is, therefore as its citizens we need to ensure that the guidelines are fully met. 

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