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Are drones legal in India? Here’s everything you need to know

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The rage has just begun!

Drones are the next frontier of logistics and content creation, but their relationship with India is a tricky one. A couple of years ago, they were banned for private use with people being barred from importing them into the country.

More recently, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) announced a scheme asking operators to voluntarily register their drones by January 31. The ministry said that those who fail to register will face action. The base question that arises is, can you independently fly your amateur drone in India?

To facilitate the identification of civil drones and drone operators, the Indian government has announced a “one-time” opportunity for voluntary disclosure for all drones and drone operators starting immediately. We’ve broken down the law, making it easier for you to understand the new guidelines and norms for safe flying within the country.

How are drones classified in India?

  • Flying drones in India has been problematic for enthusiasts as no proper guidelines have never been issued up until now. The use of drones has been in the grey area befuddling even local authorities to what the law is. The DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation) has framed a new policy that applies to Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). The policy defines an RPA as an unmanned aircraft, which is piloted from a remote pilot station – simply meaning a drone. 
  • The policy classifies drones into multiple categories according to their weight. A ‘Nano’ category drone weighs lesser or equal to 250gms, a ‘Micro’ drone weighs between 250gms and 2kg, a ‘Small’ drone weighs between 2kg and 25kg, a ‘Medium’ drone weighs more than 25kg but lesser than 150kg and lastly a ‘Large’ drone that weighs more than 150kg. 
  • Except for Nano drones, every other category operator needs to go through a one-time registration process. After the registration, users will have to request permission to fly it on a mobile application. An automated process will take into consideration your flight plan and permit or deny the request instantly.
  • There are a lot of options available in the Nano category, including DJI Mavic Mini, Parrot Air-Borne Night, Blade 200 QX, and Holy Stone F181. If you’re a beginner, these drones are simple to operate and perfect for getting started as a drone pilot.
  • Once registered, the operator will be issued an Operator Acknowledgment Number (OAN) and for each drone registered under the operator’s profile a Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN) will be issued.
  • Called the “No Permission-No Take Off” regulation, a drone operator has to use the DGCA’s software program DigiSky to obtain valid permissions before operating drones in India. It’s like dealing with an automated air traffic controller that has designated protocols to follow and can automatically navigate unmanned aerial traffic.
  • Once the owner and operator are registered, drone pilots can simply file a flight plan, and put in a request for take-off. Drones also cannot be flown within 5kms of the perimeters of the airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad and within 3km from the perimeter of any other airport. Other prohibited areas include sensitive areas like Vijay Chowk in Delhi, military establishments, and within 25km from the international border.
  • After the first set of drone regulations, the government is also working on the second set of regulations that would allow operations of drones beyond the line of sight.
  • Foreigners are currently not allowed to fly drones in India. For commercial purposes, they need to lease the drone to an Indian entity who in turn will have to obtain a UIN and UAOP from DGCA.

Any drone without a digital permit to fly will simply not be able to take off. The unmanned traffic management will operate as a traffic regulator in the drone airspace and will coordinate closely with the defence and civilian air traffic controllers.

Nano drones flying below 15 metres in uncontrolled airspace for commercial, recreational, and research and development purposes are completely exempt. Their operators do not even need to obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN). For micro drones operating below 60 metres, it is mandatory to inform the local police 24 hours before starting operations.

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