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Regulations for Drones in India

Surabhi Gupta ( is a research scholar at the Department of Public Policy and Governance, Management Development Institute, Gurgaon.

The 2017 draft guidelines on the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, indicate a reversal of the government’s earlier misgivings about drone technology. However, in a field with rapid technological advances, the long delays in framing drone regulatory norms, and the as yet non-existent policy, could mean a failure to harness the innovative potential of civilian drones.

The sky has no definite location ... There can be no ownership of infinity,

nor can equity prevent a supposed violation of an abstract conception.

—Judge Haney,
in Hinman v Pacific Air Transport (1936)

Policy formulation for emerging innovative technological processes is a complex procedure. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones, have raised policy concerns in India as well as other emerging economies. The privacy and security concerns associated with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), led the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ban the launch of any UAS in India, in its notice which was effective from October 2014 (DGCA 2014).

While civilian drones have gained popularity across the globe, flying one in India, even as a hobby, was illegal and could land people in jail. Past incidents such as the arrest of three people in Charkop area in Mumbai for trial film shooting with a drone camera, indicate that the use of drones without prior permission was viewed as a security hazard (Indian Express 2016). In many cities, including Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur, reported violators have been booked under Sections 188 (disobedience to orders duly promulgated by public servant), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), and 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery) of the IndianPenal Code. While there is no settled law regulating the sale of drones on online platforms in India, the import of drones has been prohibited. As per Section 80 of the Customs Act, 1962, “prohibited goods” can be detained. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry,Department of Commerce and Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) had declared the import of UAS/ UAVs/remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs)/ drones as “restricted,” requiring prior clearance of the DGCA and an import licence from the DGFT (MoCI 2017).

While traditionally associated with military applications, drones today have myriad uses, from critical infrastructure monitoring, recreational purposes, mapping and aerial photography, to emergency deliveries, crowd surveillance, and delivery of products (Choi-Fitzpatrick 2014). The proliferation of uses and new innovations raise a number of regulatory apprehensions with regard to property rights, safety and privacy, both on land as well as in airspace (Padmanabhan 2017; Rastogi 2015). Amazon Inc, one of the leading e-commerce websites, had applied for a patent in India for its delivery system drone, designed to deliver products to the customer’s doorsteps within 30 minutes of placing an order (Kimchi et al 2014). Also, Boeing obtained a patent for its “flying submarine” drone, which is adaptable for both flight and water travel. Thus, the overall outline of the drone policy has been calling for a more futuristic, start-up friendly approach.

The DGCA issued draft guidelines in April 2016, proposing a framework to regulate the civil and commercial use of UAS technology (DGCA 2016). The guidelines reversed the overarching ban, and were seen as an encouraging first step by industry stakeholders, reflecting a willingness to embrace drone technology and as such, an “opening of the skies.” The recent improved draft regulations, developed upon the 2016 guidelines on the use of commercial drones, were released in November 2017 and have finally set in motion the process to clear the way for drone use in India (DGCA 2017). Given the rapid growth of India’s industry and the multitude of possibilities that UAVs offer, these new rules could significantly impact the country’s technological development.

Designing the Future

The regulatory framework proposed in 2016 for the use of drones followed a pro-development and pro-efficiency approach, while structuring the policy to legalise UAS technology. Building upon these guidelines, the draft regulations prepared by the DGCA bring India to the cusp of permitting use of drones and other remotely piloted aircraft systems for commercial and recreational purposes. The permissions as well as the time taken to obtain them will varydepending on the size and weight of the drone. Most commercial drones fallunder the “micro” category, that is, greater than 250 grams (gm) and less than or equal to 2 kilograms (kg). Nano drones (weighing less than 250 gm), which can be operated indoors and in uncontrolled airspaces, do not require any permit (Table 1).


The absence of well-defined regulations had made innovation and attracting investments very difficult in this field, and the new rules are expected to ease manufacture and use of drones in the country. The draft regulations, in many ways, look similar to the 2016 norms, but a closer inspection reveals that they borrow much from progressive drone laws in developed countries. The draft guidelines seem to be in sync with international best practices, except for a few stringent restrictions with respect to UAS operations in the country’s border areas, which have been included to avoid security and privacy issues. Certainareas declared in the guidelines will be out of bounds. For instance, it will not be permitted to fly a drone within a 5 kilometre (km) radius of an operational aerodrome, within 50 km of an international border or within a 5 km radius around Vijay Chowk in Delhi, where Parliament, President’s House and North and South Blocks are located. Flying within 500 m from the perimeter of strategic locations, over eco-sensitive zones like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, or over an area affecting public safety, is also prohibited (DGCA 2017).

Cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence technology, along with powerful communication and collaboration tools, are enabling societies to gather data and analyse them in unprecedented ways. In agriculture and healthcare, drone technology has the potential to transform lives and deliver critical and useful information to the least privileged (Kokina and Davenport 2017). The real outcome of the regulations will be effective when large-scale manufacturing kick-starts in India. This will also open up markets for international companies such as DJI (Dà-Jiāng Innovations) Drones and GoPro to begin retailing in India. Legalising operation of UAS is a welcome change, however the draft regulations in its current form need further improvement in order to be consistent with the interests of innovators and entrepreneurs. A well-knit regulatory structure, which takes into consideration advanced technological as well as airspace security concerns, is the need of the hour.

Glaring Bottlenecks

With civil aviation all set to legalise the use of UAVs, guidelines regarding the misuse of drones (especially near airport security) are not in place. Besides this, the standard operational altitude of micro, mini and heavier drones is set to 200 feet above ground level (AGL), which might not be an adequate height allowance to stay clear of obstacles. Many international drone policies, like those in the United States (US), Australia and China permit drone operations up to 400 feet AGL, in order to avoid obstacles and also since many significant infrastructure monitoring operations like geo-mapping, aerial photography, monitoring power lines, etc, require flying above the 200 feet limit (FAA 2016). This is also in alignment with international standards, including those of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which allow UAS operations below 400 feet (ICAO 2011).

Another concern emerging out of the draft regulations is with regard to autonomous drones.1 Although the position of the regulation is not very different from international laws—several other countries do not allow fully autonomous operations of drones either—industry experts are of the opinion that for agriculture, search and rescue operations and monitoring infrastructure, autonomous drones are better suited than human-controlled ones. The draft regulations are silent on what operators, who are currently operating partly autonomous drones, will have to do.

With the proposed drone policy envisioning a future where a large number of commercial drones take to the skies, air traffic control (ATC) system for drones should also be kept in mind (Rule 2015). Some of the major requirements include weather tracking, generating air maps, setting up directions and ensuring drones are able to exchange information. Also, designation of identified areas for testing/demonstration of drones is a positive step taken by the DGCA in the draft norms. Twenty-three locations spread over 11 states in the country have been identified, but easy accessibility to such sites will be a concern for companies. For example, adrone company based in Delhi will have to travel a distance of 270 km to Sakkhanpur Farm, or 350 km to Phagwara, in order to test UAS prototypes, or for trial runs.Instead, open tracts of land on the outskirts of the city, away from populated areas and other obstacles, could be designated as test sites.

It is also interesting to mention here that the draft norms clearly state that the remote pilot must be at least 18 years old and should have gone through ground training, equivalent to that undertaken by aircrew of manned aircraft or a private pilot licence (PPL) holder (aeroplanes/helicopters) with a flightradio telephone operator’s licence (FRTOL). This does not seem very pragmatic for micro and mini UAVs. Another concern is the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) as well as GSM (global system for mobile) and SIM (subscriber identity module) card slots for application-based tracking in micro and mini drones. First, most of the drones in these categories are not equipped for SIM-based operations, and second, this increases the risk of third- party control of the drones, thus posing a threat to the safety and security of the UAS. Furthermore, secondary surveillance radar (SSR) and automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS–B) transponders—equipment requirements for micro and mini drones—are expensive and too heavy for these drones and, thus these requirements seem impractical.

Also, drone crashes are frequent occurrences in countries permitting drone operations. For instance, recently, a drone crashed into a Boeing jet plane at Mozambique airport, damaging the aircraft (Brickell 2017). Drone policy formulation will therefore make air traffic management necessary.

Drone management systems also face some challenges such as difficulty in tracking weather (Bolos 2015). Small drones fly at low altitudes and are more susceptible to changing weather conditions. Strong winds and rains can easily knock them off course, out of their designated operating zones. Drone traffic management will require planned research and practical experimentation, and the increasing use of drones in varied sectors will require proper air traffic control. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and an array of industry partners, have been researching the requirements for establishment of a drone traffic management system (Gipson 2017).

While the regulatory framework has holistically incorporated application, operations and maintenance of drones, there still remains a gap in easing of drone manufacturing norms. The Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy (DIPP) looks into its manufacturing and has set up strict norms as to who can manufacture with restrictions on the importing parts. Thus, inclusion of guidelines for design, prototyping and manufacturing of drones under the framework is necessary.


Without doubt, UAS technology is in its nascent stage and safety and privacy concerns of the government are well-grounded. However, imposition of crippling, unreasonable restrictions on UAS technology, presented as well-defined regulations, will impair our technological progress.

The European Aviations Safety Agency (EASA) has outlined two main goals of UAS regulation: integration and acceptance of drones into existing aviation system in a safe and proportionate manner; and to foster an innovative and competitive European drone industry, creating new employment, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (EASA 2015). To allow for reaping of similar benefits in India, we need to have a more permitting approach to regulation based on the proportionate, progressive risk-based model. Business models like Amazon Prime, Facebook’s Aquila and Google’s Project Wing are founded on UAS technology. The new draft regulations will certainly come as a relief for the e-commerce industry, which has been lobbying for drone deliveries. However, keeping in mind the push for “Startup India,” the field should not be constricted such that for every new commercial application of drone technology, new exceptions have to be created from an overarching prohibitory policy.

Regulation should improve the ease of doing business, by sidelining unnecessary requirements and creating a single-window process. The end goal of opening up the national airspace for civilian use of drones can be facilitated through means better identified by the stakeholders in drone technology, ranging from the DGCA, security agencies, Bureau of Civil AviationSecurity, information technology experts, telecom regulators, state governments, industry experts, academicians and start-ups. While this might not lead to a perfect legislation all at once, it will ensure India’s continuing evolution towards a holistic regulatory framework for drones.


1 An autonomous drone is an unmanned aircraft that does not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight (DGCA 2017).


Bolos, Michelle (2015): “A Highway in the Sky: A 
Look at Land Use Issues That Will Arise with the Integration of Drone Technology,” Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, No 2, pp 422–23.

Brickell, Rodney (2017): “Demystifying Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Support for Domestic Operations (DOMPOS),” research paper, Alabama: Air War College.

Choi-Fitzpatrick, Austin (2014): “Drones for Good: Technological Innovations, Social Movements, and the State,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol 68, No 1, pp 19–36.

DGCA (2014): “Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)/Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Civil Applications,” Director General of Civil Aviation, Government of India, New Delhi,

— (2016): “Guidelines for Obtaining Unique Identification Number (UIN) and Operation of Civil Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS),” Director General of Civil Aviation, Government of India, New Delhi,

— (2017): “Requirements for Operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS),”
Director General of Civil Aviation, Government of India, New Delhi,

EASA (2015): “Concept of Operations for Drones: A Risk Based Approach to Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft,” European Aviation Safety Agency, Cologne,

FAA (2016): “Summary Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule,” Federal Aviation Administration Washington,

Gipson, Lillian (2017): “NASA Completes Its Latest Drone Traffic Management Flight Campaign,” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 8 June,

Hinman v Pacific Air Transport (1936): United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 84, F.2d, p 755.

ICAO (2011): “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS),” Circular No 328, 0International Civil Aviation Organization, Montréal.

Indian Express (2016): “Mumbai: Businessman who ‘Rents Drones for Movie Shoots,’ Two Employees Held,” 21 October,

Kimchi, Gur et al (2014): “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Delivery System,” US patent 20150120094A1, Filed 30 September, pending.

Kokina, Julia and Thomas H Davenport (2017): “The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence: How Automation is Changing Auditing,” Journal of Emerging Technologies in Accounting, Vol 14, No 1, pp 115–22.

MoCI (2017): “Import Policy of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)/Remotely Piloted Aircrafts (RPAs)/Drones,” Notification No 16 of 2015–2020, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Commerce, Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Government of India,

Padmanabhan, Ananth (2017): “Civilian Drones and India’s Regulatory Response,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, p 4.

Rastogi, Anirudh (2015): “Civilian Drone Industry: Are Indian Regulators Sleeping on a Gold Mine?” Huffington Post, 31 March

Rule, Troy A (2015): “Airspace in an Age of Drones,” Boston University Law Review, Vol 95, No 155, pp 154–208.

Updated On : 23rd Apr, 2018


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