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  • Raghav Sand

Drones in India: All You Need to Know

Drone is a layman terminology for Unmanned Aircraft (UA) – it has three subsets: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), Autonomous Aircraft and Model Aircraft. RPAS, popularly referred to as drones, are a technology platform with wide-ranging applications. In August 2018, India had announced the release of its Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) to enable safe flying of RPAS in India. These regulations came into effect on 1st December, 2018.

Civil RPAS have five categories in accordance with maximum take-off weight. Bona fide passengers are permitted to take photographs from inside the aircraft while in flight and while landing, take‐off or on ground at civil aerodromes. Drones are restricted items and can’t be carried in hand baggage in aircrafts.

Data: Directorate General of Civil Aviation

UIN is unique identification number issued by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for a particular RPAS (except Nano). UIN should be engraved on a fire-resistant plate and firmly affixed on the drone. The owner must ensure that the number remains affixed to the UA during routine handling and under all operating conditions UIN should be readily accessible and legible upon close visual inspection.

Nano drones in India were allowed to start flying legally at the commencement of regulations in 2018. These drones need to be operated within 50 feet above ground level and should be flown in uncontrolled airspace. For micro and above categories, operators and pilots are required to register on the DigitalSky Portal. These include models, prototypes, toys, radio-controlled aircraft, autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft systems etc. The drone enlistment form has two parts. After uploading the drone owner’s information, the owner receives an Ownership Acknowledgement Number (OAN). Using the OAN, the owner will upload the drone-related information and will receive a Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN).

Each drone will require a fresh enlistment. Since a drone owner may have multiple drones, the owner shall use same OAN to enlist all drones owned by him. A separate DAN will be issued for each drone. Ownership of a drone in India without a valid OAN and DAN shall invite penal action as per applicable laws.


Controlled airspace is an airspace of defined dimensions within which Air Traffic Control (ATC) services are provided. Uncontrolled airspace is an airspace where an ATC service is not necessary or cannot be provided for practical reasons.

Exempted Entities

All operators other than exempted categories are required to obtain Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from DGCA; such permit will be valid for five years from the date of issue. Operators of Nano & Micro category in uncontrolled airspace enclosed premises up to 50ft and 200ft, respectively and RPAS operated by National Technical Research Organisation, Administrative Reforms Commission, and Central Intelligence Agencies fall in the exempted category.

Import of Drones – With or Without Camera

Any entity intending to import RPAS in India shall obtain Equipment Type Approval (ETA) from Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing, Department of Telecommunication, for operating in de-licensed frequency band(s). Such approval shall be valid for a particular make and model. The applicant, other than Nano category, shall apply to DGCA along with ETA for import clearance. Based upon the import clearance issued by DGCA, Directorate General of Foreign Trade (Ministry of Commerce) shall issue license for import of RPAS.

Penal Provisions for Violations

In case of violation of the rules and regulations for drones, the UIN/UAOP issued by DGCA shall be suspended/cancelled. Violation of compliance to any of the requirements and falsification of records/documents shall attract penal action including imposition of penalties as per applicable IPCs (such as 287, 336, 337, 338 or any relevant section of IPC) or Aircraft Act 1934 or Aircraft Rules 1937 or any statutory provisions.

Drones’ No-fly Zone and Special Permissions

No RPAS shall be flown within a distance of 5 kilometers (KM) from the perimeter of airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. For other civil, private or defence airports the prohibited perimeter shall be 3 KM. The regulations are tougher near the international borders and the restricted perimeter is fixed at 25 KM. Special permission is required for flying RPAS near military installations, national parks and state secretariats.

Drone Registration – Do it Yourself

DGCA revised the RPAS Guidance Manual (PDF opens in a new tab) on 21st December 2020 for the third time since its first edition released in 2018. An easy and step-by-step registration portal, ‘DigitalSky‘, maintained by the office of DGCA handles all the RPAS registration requirements. DigitalSky contains updated regulations for individuals and entities looking to register themselves and their RPAS.

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