India Opens Its Skies to Drones – What Are the Rules?

After some hesitation, India moved to legalize the operation of civilian drones over its territory. The new laws (which you can read here) took effect on 01 December 2018 and are in line with the rapid modernization of the country whose booming economy has lifted millions into the middle class.

Drone Classification

The law introduces a new classification system for drones with all civilian devices now falling into five categories, based on weight:

  • Nano Drones – up to 250g
  • Micro Drones – 250g – 2kg
  • Small Drones – 2kg – 25kg
  • Medium Drones – 25kg to 150kg
  • Large Drones – over 150kg

Small to Large drones are permitted at an altitude of up to 120m (400ft) and all categories are restricted to within line of sight and daytime activity.

Unique ID’s and Operator Permits

With the exception of nano drones flying under 15m (50ft), the owners of all other devices must apply for a Unique Identification Number (UIN) through an online platform called “Digital Skyon which they also must file flight plans and obtain permission to fly. In this way, authorities hope to be able to keep track of civilian drones operating over the country.

Any pilot flying over 60m (200ft) will also be required to obtain an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP), a sort of “drone driver’s license” open to operators over the age of 18 who have completed basic ground/practical aviation theory training and successfully passed an exam.

While the UIA is valid for the lifetime of the device, the UAOP must be renewed periodically.

“No Permission, No Take-Off”

A unique feature of Digital Sky is the electronically enforced “no permission, no take-off” (NPNT) policy requiring all drones flying above 15m to install software which will prevent them from operating if they have not received approval for flight plans submitted to Digital Sky.

All new drones sold in India must be NPNT compliant and owners of existing devices are required to upload the NPNT software to operate legally.

GNSS and Two-Way Communication Required

A feature of the law that will be of interest to airspace security administrators is the requirement that all devices above the nano category must be equipped with GNSS for horizontal and vertical position fixing and two-way communication between the pilot and drone.

It appears this detail was introduced to prevent the proliferation of autonomous drone technology whose ability to operate independently of GNSS would make detection and, if necessary, jamming of rogue UAVs more difficult for law enforcement.

Some Zones Off-Limits

As in most other countries, unauthorized UAV flights are forbidden in sensitive areas including:

  • Major airports
  • Urban centers
  • Military installations
  • Disaster areas
  • Within 25km of international borders
  • Government buildings and national monuments
  • National parks and wildlife sanctuaries

The law places responsibility on drone pilots to avoid disturbing the tranquility of their fellow citizens and to respect the privacy and safety of others.

But What About Non-Compliance?

Still, anti-drone protection will be doubtlessly be needed to counter rogue drone operators, including possible terrorist operatives, from using the technology for their purposes. The expense of obtaining licenses and the reluctance to wait for approval from the government for every drone operation may additionally push some pilots to fly without registration or authorization – increasing the risk of incidents.

Fortunately, anti-drone solutions including pilot and drone localization and neutralization have advanced rapidly over the past few years.

No Clear Guidelines for Foreign Pilots

For now, the law does not appear to allow foreign drone pilots to operate on Indian territory and other legislation forbids carrying UAVs in hand luggage (required by most airlines) which would prevent the majority of tourists or other operators from importing their devices entirely.

Expanded Capabilities in the Near Future

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation has already assembled a task force for recommendations on Drone Policy 2.0 under the chairmanship of the Minister of State, according to their press release.

Expected developments include regulatory architecture for autonomous operation, deliveries by drone, and BVLOS (flights beyond the line of sight).

 

And if it’s all a bit too much to remember, here’s a helpful overview from Tech2:


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