India: Drones In Indian Skies: Now A Reality !

Last Updated: 5 September 2018
Article by Siddharth Ratho and Huzefa Tavawalla
  • Civil use of drones to be permitted from December 01, 2018
  • Online 'Digital Sky' platform introduced for registration and approval process
  • Procedures laid down for import of drones in India
  • Security clearances required from the Ministry of Home Affairs for ownership and operation of drones
  • Restrictions on foreign companies and foreign nationals from owning and operating drones

In 2014, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ("DGCA") had issued a public notice announcing its intention to release guidelines to regulate the civil use of unmanned aircrafts. The notice clarified that until the formulation of regulations, there would be a blanket ban on civil use of drones by any individual, organization or non-governmental agency.1 Further, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade ("DGFT") added another legal hindrance by way of a notification issued to restrict the import of drones.2

In a circular issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation ("DGCA") dated August 27, 2018, the government has finally introduced its policy for remotely piloted aircrafts systems ("Drone Policy"), ending a long period of ambiguity and paving the way for the commercialization of drones in India. The new policy defines and classifies remotely piloted aircrafts ("Drones"), how they are to be operated, and the restrictions that they will have to operate under. Please click here to access the Drone Policy.

Below is our analysis of the Drone Policy.

Introduction of a digital platform

The Drone Policy seeks to introduce an all-digital-process for registering, operating and monitoring Drones in India, namely the 'Digital Sky Platform' enabling a one-time digital registration process for Drones, pilots and owners as well as monitoring Drone traffic. The press release dated August 27, 2018 issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation states that the Digital Sky Platform is intended to include a unique unmanned traffic management ("UTM") platform that implements "no-permission, no takeoff" ("NPNT"). The purpose of the UTM, as mentioned in the press release is to ensure that each time an operator decides to fly a Drone (with Drones in the Nano category intending to operate up to 50 feet being the exception), they would require requisite permission to fly. Such permission is to be obtained through a mobile application with the permission or denial of the request to be granted on a real time basis vis-à-vis an automated process. Any Drone that does not have a digital permit will not be able to take-off. It would only take off on obtaining requisite permission.

However, although the Drone Policy requires manufacturers to provide a certificate of compliance (which would include NPNT compliance) to the DGCA, it has not specifically mentioned or described the roll out of an NPNT. We will therefore have to wait for the actual roll out of the Digital Sky Platform to see whether the UTM platform enabling NPNT is integrated into the same under the current Drone Policy.

Such a digitized process intends to prevent unauthorized flights altogether and avoid regulatory red-tape, while at the same time enabling efficient registration, regulation, monitoring and ensuring public safety.

While the Digital Sky Platform concept is indeed commendable, it will be interesting to see how the framework will practically integrate and coordinate between various enforcement agencies. This will require large amounts of investment in a robust and cutting edge digital infrastructure, expansion and inter-play between different frequency bands. The initial roll out of the technology is sure to face teething issues that will require timely ironing out.

Classification of Drones

The categorization of Drones has been done in accordance with the maximum All-Up-Weight (including payload) as indicated below:

  1. Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams.
  2. Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg.
  3. Small: Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg.
  4. Medium: Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg.
  5. Large: Greater than 150 kg.

The All-Up-Weight is a key determinant of the regulatory requirements and relaxations granted to a particular Drone and compliances that must be adhered to while applying for ownership and operation of Drones. This is important because Drones in the Nano and Micro category are exempt from certain regulatory requirements. The All-Up-Weight includes not just the weight of the Drone itself but also of the weight of the extra materials that it may be carrying, including the weight of the fuel that it may hold. Persons interested in the ownership or operation of Drones must be aware of the functions and purpose of the Drone, including the maximum weight of the payload and the fuel, if any, before assessing the application requirements.

Import of Drones

The Drone Policy now allows for the import of Drones albeit with certain regulatory requirements in place. Entities that intend on importing Drones into India shall first have to obtain an Equipment Type Approval ("ETA") from the Wireless Planning and Coordination ("WPC") wing of India's Department of Telecommunication ("DoT") for operating Drones in de-licensed frequency bands. De-licensed frequency bands are low frequency bands, which for instance, facilitate communication between connected vehicles in the automotive industry. Drones will now also run on such de-licensed frequency bands.

On obtaining the ETAs, the importers are then required to obtain import clearance from the DGCA. Details of the Drone, including the maximum All-Up-Weight, maximum height attainable, foreign manufacturer details, purpose of operations and security clearance (along with other details) are to be provided. Such details shall be vetted by the DGCA and on case-to-case basis, the DGCA shall accordingly provide the import clearance. Based on the import clearance received from the DGCA, the Director General of Foreign Trade ("DGFT") shall subsequently issue the license for the import of the Drones.

Only on obtaining the clearance from DGCA and the license from DGFT can the importers then proceed to obtaining a unique identification number ("UIN") and unmanned aircraft operator permits ("UAOP") which are necessary to fly / operate the drone. Processes for obtaining UIN and UAOP are detailed below.

However, there is no specific approval process or time-line provided within which the WPC, DGCA and DGFT shall provide the necessary import clearances. Also, it is unclear whether the import clearances would be linked to the online Digital Sky Platform. Thus, there remains ambiguity with respect to the time / effort that may be required for obtaining such clearances.

However, importers of Nano sized drones are exempt from DGCA and DGFT import clearances.

Domestically manufactured Drones

Although Drones manufactured in India do not require DGFT/DGCA import clearances, they still need to obtain ETA approvals from the WPC for operating in de-licensed frequency bands. In addition, UIN and UAOP would also need to undertaken before operating / flying a drone.

Below is the step chart prior to obtaining UIN and UAOP:

Do note that apart from the above process, local Drone manufacturers may also need to procure an industrial license from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion ("DIPP") for manufacturing of Drones in India. Primary reason being that Drones fall under the category of dual use (defense and civil use), hence triggering the industrial license requirements. This might prove to be a disadvantage to domestic manufacturers in comparison with Drone importers who would not be required to procure such industrial licenses.

Eligibility for Ownership

To be eligible to apply for a UIN, the Drone must be wholly owned either:

  1. By a Citizen of India; or
  2. By the Central Government or State Government or any company or corporation owned or controlled by either of the said Governments; or
  3. By a company or a body corporate provided that:
    i) It is registered and has its principle place of business within India;
    ii) Its chairman and at least two-thirds of its directors are citizens of India;
    iii) Its substantial ownership and effective control is vested in Indian Nationals; or
  4. By a company or company registered elsewhere than in India provided that it has leased the Drone to any organization mentioned in b and c above.

The Drone Policy prevents foreign nationals and subsidiaries of foreign companies from applying for a UIN to own a Drone. This provision will most likely discourage foreign Drone players entering into the Indian market as their Indian subsidiaries will not be able to own / operate Drones in India. This may also dis-incentivized foreign players from investing in the Indian Drone market.

Ownership: Unique Identification Number

Having ensured that the ETA (and other relevant approvals for import of drones) have been duly obtained, to be eligible to own/operate Drones, one will require a UIN. However, Drone in the Nano category intended to fly up to 50 feet above ground level in uncontrolled airspace, enclosed premises for commercial, recreational or research and development purposes, and those owned by the National Technical Research Organisation ("NTRO"), Aviation Research Centre ("ARC") and Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") (collectively referred to as "Government Agencies") are exempt from this requirement.

The Drone Policy has provided detailed specifications on what is to be included in the UIN application including the prescribed form for the said application. Details of the owner, purpose and base of operations, specifications of the Drone, maximum All-Up-Weight, equipment specifications etc. are required for obtaining a UIN. In addition, security clearance is also required from the Ministry of Home Affairs ("MHA") which is a pre-requisite for obtaining the UIN.

Do note that Indian citizens may exempt themselves from the requirement of security clearance from the MHA by providing self-attested copies of at least two out of three valid identity proofs such as passport, driving license or Aadhar Card. In case of foreign remote pilots employed by Indian entities, the DGCA shall forward documents for security clearance to security agencies in accordance with the procedure to be followed by Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorization ("FATA") pilots. There is no specific time-line provided for this additional procedure.

As per the Drone Policy, DGCA shall issue the UIN within 02 working days provided all relevant documents are duly submitted, Further, we understand that the submission of the documents / approval process would be via the online Digital Sky Platform. However, do note that there is no timeline provided within which the MHA needs to provide necessary security clearances.

Below is the step chart indicating the application process for obtaining a UIN:

Operation of Drones: Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit

Civil Drone operators for Drones i.e. persons, organizations or enterprises engaged in or offering to engage in the operation of Drones ("Operators") must acquire UAOP from DGCA by submitting an application through the Digital Sky Platform with the prescribed fee and in the prescribed form. Operators of Drones in the Nano Category and of Drones in the Micro Category flying up to 50 feet and 200 feet respectively, in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises, are exempt from the requirement of obtaining a UAOP. Similarly, Operators of Drones owned by Government Agencies are also exempt from this requirement. However, in the case of Micro Drones, the operator is required to inform the concerned local police office twenty-four hours before operating the Drone.

The application for a UAOP, to be submitted through the Digital Sky Platform, is to include details of the Standard Operating Procedure ("SOP") and requisite permissions from the property owners of areas where the take-off and landing of the Drone would take place. The Operator, in its application, must also provide details of the remote pilot, with either the security clearance from MHA or self-attested copies of at least two out of three valid government issued identification proofs such as Passport, Driving License or Aadhaar Card, in addition to the copies of the training records, insurance details and the security programme.

Once submitted with all requisite details, the DCGA is required to issue the UAOP within 07 working days. Copies of the same must be provided to the MHA, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, Indian Air Force, ATS providers, which includes the Airport Authority of India ("AAI") and Ministry of Defence, and the concerned district administration. In the case of a company or corporation registered outside India leasing a Drone to an Indian entity, only that Indian entity will be issued the UAOP.

The validity of UAOP shall be for a period of 05 years from the date of issue and shall not be transferrable.

Below is the step chart indicating the application process for obtaining a UAOP;

Remote Pilot: Training Requirements

To be eligible to operate a Drone, a remote pilot is required to be 18 years of age, should have passed a tenth standard exam in the English language, and must have undergone thorough ground and practical training. However, these requirements will not apply for operation of Drones in the Nano and Micro categories.

The responsibility of providing ground training is upon DCGA approved Flying Training Organisations ("FTOs"). The training programme shall include teaching theoretical subjects intended to equip the pilots with knowledge equivalent to that undertaken by the aircrew of a manned aircraft or a private pilot license holder to enable him / her to control the operation of a Drone under any and all circumstances. Similarly, for obtaining practical training, a five-day intensive syllabus and curriculum has been prescribed for training remote pilots.

These requirements, to a certain extent, conform to international best standards such as in the United States, where a person must be at least 16 years of age and must pass an Aeronautical Knowledge Test ("AKT") at an FAA-approved knowledge-testing centre along with undergoing a Transportation Safety Administration ("TSA") security screening. Similarly, in Australia, for a person to pilot a Drone in a commercial operation, he / she must hold a 'Drone Controller's Certificate' as well as a remote pilot licence ("RePL").

Equipment Standardization

All Drones, with the exception of Nano Drones flying up to 50 feet, must incorporate standardised equipment with serviceable components. There are varying requirements depending on the flight height of the Drone along with the airspace in which it is intended to fly (controlled / uncontrolled).

Such requirements include navigation satellite system, return home option, flashing anti-collision strobe lights, RFID and GSM SIM Card, being Digital Sky platform compliant for enabling real time tracking, fire resistant identification plate with inscribed markings, and finally, a flight controller with the capability to log all the flight data etc.

Irrespective of the flight height of such Drones, all Drones must be equipped with the capability of establishing two-way communication between the remote pilot and the concerned air traffic service. Additionally, the tracking system on the Drones is required to be both self-powered and tamper proof so that even in cases of an accident, data can be transmitted. The movement of such Drones is to be monitored by the Indian Air Force ("IAF") in coordination with the AAI.

Flying Restrictions

The Drone Policy requires that the Drones ought to be operated within the visual line-of-sight and in the daytime-only. The visual line-of sight-requirement is in conformity with the present international norms and although it may limit some of the commercial applications of Drones, as Drone technology advances and Commercial Drones become the norm, such a requirement should undergo periodic relaxations.

The Drone Policy also divides the air space into different zones, indicated as follows;

  • No Drone Zones - Flying not permitted
  • Controlled airspace — permission required before flying
  • Uncontrolled airspace — automatic permission

Drone Traffic Control

The Operator will have to obtain permission to fly the Drone through the 'Digital Sky Platform' along with informing the local policy, prior to flying the drone. However, Nano Drones are exempt from this obligation.

In addition, all remote pilots are required to file their respective flight plans at least 24 hours prior to taking flight along with necessary air traffic clearances. The exception to this rule is for Nano and Micro category Drones intending to fly within the limits as prescribed under the Drone Policy.

To operate a Drone in the controlled airspace, the remote pilot must establish and maintain communication with the Air Traffic Controller ("ATC") before entering it. Such operators will also undertake safety risk assessment of such operations, both at the launch and the recovery site. Such take-off and landing sites should be segregated from public access and should be under the complete control of the Drone operator. Designated safe areas ought to be established for emergency drone holding and termination of its flight.

Operators shall also be responsible for ensuring the privacy norms of all concerned entities.

Drones, at all times, will have to give way to manned aircrafts and shall not discharge or drop any material or substance without special permission and as specified in the UAOP.

Consequences for violation of Provisions

In the event of violation of any provisions in the Drone Policy, the UIN/UAOP issued by the DGCA shall be suspended/cancelled by the DGCA. Since the UIN and UAOP are mandatory for operating drones, suspension/cancellation should deter users from violating norms.

It is also provided that breach of compliance of any of the requirements stated in this regulation and falsification of records/documents shall attract penalties under various sections of the Indian Penal Code ("IPC") including section 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery), section 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), section 337 (causing hurt by endangering life or personal safety of others), section 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and any other relevant section of the IPC. The Local Police Office shall have jurisdiction for enforcement of violations of provisions of the IPC. It is also provided that necessary actions may be taken as per the relevant sections of the Aircraft Act, 1934 / the Aircraft Rules 1937 or any statutory provisions.

Analysis: Hits and Misses

The Drone Policy 1.0 is a welcome step towards civil use of Drones in India. Concepts such as the Digital Sky Platform portrays adoption of new-age technologies by the Indian government to ensure safety and accountability of all parties concerned. The Drone Policy promises to open various opportunities for the Indian economy including applications in industries such as security management, agriculture, infrastructure maintenance, insurance and others.

The commercialization of Drones, also promises to open up various new business opportunities and increase business efficiencies. For instance, high-level knowledge and skills will have to be acquired for safely operating a Drone. This will increase demand for Drone Operators, which should add skilled job opportunities in the Indian Market. There may be an increase in demand for trainers as well as FTOs, which might attract investments from businesses. After-sale servicing and repairing of Drones is likely to be another industry that will emerge. The Drone Policy also envisages Drones which may carry and discharge payloads, albeit requiring special permission, thereby paving the way for Drone delivery services. However, at the same time, the restrictive visual-line-of-sight requirement might limit its advancement for the time being.

However, it is unclear as to the rationale for restricting Drone usage for wholly owned / subsidiaries of foreign companies incorporated in India. Such restrictions may disincentive foreign participation in the Indian Drone market

Moreover, we are yet to see the development of the Digital Sky Platform as envisaged in the Drone Policy. We believe that the successful development of a robust Digital Sky Infrastructure will be critical to the success of the Drone Policy as such a technology not only envisages a one stop platform for granting approvals, but would also go a long way in enabling enforcement agencies to effectively monitor and regulate the operation of Drones in India. Currently, we are yet to see a beta version of such a Digital Sky Platform but hopefully the roll out should be in the coming months. In addition, considering that some of the provisions appear to be broad and lack specificity, there could be potential implementation delays.

Having said the above, it must be noted that the Drone Policy has been knowingly labelled as "Regulations 1.0" keeping open the possibility of amendments and improvements in the near future.




The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions