Drone Laws In India: An Overview

This Article is written by Adity Dutta & Shivam Shekhar, students of ICFAI University, Dehradun


The term “drone” mainly refers to pilotless crafts or ships controlled by radio-controlled controllers or aboard computers. Everywhere around the world, drones are substitutable with military aviation. The use of first military drones can be traced back to the mid-1850s. The idea of unmanned aerial vehicles may have originated in 1849, when Austria used drones to attack Venice with explosives. During that period, the Austrian army is said to have beset Venice with more than 200 such drones. Later, in the 1930s, the United States and Britain independently developed the first remote-controlled aircraft, laying the foundation for the military drone project we know today. 

India used military drones for the first time during Kargil war against Pakistan in 1999, when Israel delivered IAI’s Heron and Searcher drones to India for reconnaissance. Since then, India has purchased many Israeli military drones. Defence research and Development Organization (DRDO) has also developed India’s own unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aircraft Systems (UAS) program.

Drones are now also used for various civilian functions, ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring, and fire-fighting, to personal and commercial drones for photography, video, agriculture and even delivery services.

Since two explosions were recorded in the technical zone of Jammu Air Force Base this year, drones made its way in the news more than ever. According to the official Twitter handle of the Indian Air Force, “…one caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area. There was no damage to any equipment.” According to the news, these drone strikes were terrorist attacks on ‘key military assets.’ After that incident, drones were spotted in Jammu and Kashmir for three consecutive days. Experts said this is a new phenomenon that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This led India to tighten its regulation of drones.

In December 2018 Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) drafted rules on Unmanned Aircraft Systems and released them in 2020 for public opinions. The MoCA has now drafted the final rules under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (UAS, 2021) by making certain changes to the earlier rules. Some highlights of the UAS Rules 2021 are discussed below.


Contrary to previous recommendations that were limited to India, UAS Rules 2021 have been extended to all drones registered in India, even if they operate outside India. In addition, its regulations also apply to anyone who owns drones in India or wants to participate in the import, export, manufacturing, marketing, leasing, operation, transfer or maintenance of their drones. 


The new UAS Rules categorizes UAS into the 3 categories, namely, aeroplane, rotorcraft and hybrid unmanned aircraft system. They are further sub-divided into –

  1. Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), i.e., UAS controlled from a remote pilot station.
  2. Model RPAS, i.e., UAS operating within the range of sight and just for educational purposes, without payload.
  3. Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System, i.e., those UAS which requires no pilot interventions. 

Under UAS Rules 2021 weight-based classifications of UAS are kept as it was in the previous guidelines, just with one exception. Nano Drones should be reclassified as Micro Drones, if a nano drone exceeds the stipulated performance parameters, such as (i) maximum speed of 15 m/s, (ii) height of 15 meters, and (iii) range of 100 meters from the pilot operating the drone. It is to be noted that nano drones and micro drones possess the same features with just one difference: nano drones are relatively smaller than micro drones.

The maximum height allowed for micro UAS to attain is not exceeding 60 meters and that of small UAS is 120 meters. 

Nano, micro and small drones are prohibited from delivering goods. Only medium and bid drones are permitted to deliver.  


According to the previous guidelines, only drone operators, manufacturers and importers had to obtain the necessary licenses. In contrast, the new UAS Rules require all personnel related to the drone ecosystem to be registered as authorized drone importers and authorized drone manufacturers, Authorized drone dealers, authorized drone owners, or authorized drone operators. 

Unless approved, drones must not operate without a unique ID. The drone operator must generate a unique drone identification number by providing the required data on the Digital Sky platform, a MoCA initiative by which it plans to provide a safe and scalable platform to support the drone technology platform. No Permission- No Take-off (NPNT) policy is to be adopted for all drones. The validity period of the authorisation is not more than 10 years.

Applicants would be eligible for authorisation only when,

  • The person is a citizen of India and has attained 18 years of age.
  • A company or a corporate body – 
    • Which is registered and its main place of operating is in India,
    • Whose higher management – Chairman and most of its directors are Indian citizens,
    • Whose substantial ownership and effective control lays in Indian nationals as specified in Schedule XI of the Aircraft Rules, 1937.
    • A firm or an association of persons or body of individuals or a local authority or any legal entity, whether incorporated or not, which has its principal place of business in India, Central and State Government or an agency thereof.

It is to be noted that phrases like ‘substantial ownership’ and ‘effective control’ are not distinctly defined under the new rules. Security clearance of a person who wants to buy a drone is a must. Even directors and chairman of a company require such security clearance. 


‘A certificate of manufacture and airworthiness’ is required to be obtained by an authorised UAS manufacturer or importer. The certificate should clearly certify the type and classification along with its specifications, which should meet the requirements stated in the UAS Rules. 


The UAS 2021 rules specifies that all UAS, expect for nano drones, should be equipped with certain necessary equipment, such as flashing anti-collision strobe lights, flight data logging capability, secondary surveillance radar transponder, real-time tracking system and 360-degree collision avoidance system, and more of the same. 

However, there are certain other equipment which must be installed in every UAS including nano drones. They are Global Navigation Satellite System, Autonomous Flight Termination System or Return to Home option, geo-fencing capability, flight controller, and so on and so forth.


There are certain guidelines provided under UAS 2021 rules for the drone operators to follow. The operator can be any individual who obtained a remote pilot license for operation of UAS. The license can be obtained by passing an oral test and a medical test, and then undergoing flying training from an authorised training institution. The remote pilot instructor should also possess a licence and undergo training.  To fly any drone other than nano drones, one has to obtain permission from the DGCA.

There are certain areas which are restricted from drone operations. Few of those restricted areas are listed below.

  1. within a distance of 5 kilometres from the perimeter of international airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
  2. within a distance of 3 kilometres from the perimeter of any civil, private or defence airports.
  3. within 25 kilometres from international border which includes Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
  4. within 3 kilometres from perimeter of military installations/ facilities/ where military activities/ exercises are being carried out unless clearance is obtained from the local military installation/facility.
  5. within 2 kilometres from perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) unless clearance is obtained from MHA.


The drone ports for arrival, departure, ground movement and maintenance related drone business activities must be approved and authorised by the DGCA before it can be set up in the approved area. The UAV port for arrival, departure, ground movement and related maintenance or related UAV business activities must be approved and approved by the Civil Aviation Administration of China before it can be set up in the approved area. The eligibility criteria for obtaining a drone port license are the same as those required to be a drone importer, manufacturer, distributor, owner, or operator.


The R&D organisations which are permitted to carry out R&D of UAS includes start-up companies, authorized UAS manufacturers, and all licensed and recognised higher education institutions in India. Such organisations have to be approved by DGCA.


The UAS Rules 2021 did made some progress given the earlier regulation of 2018, but this seems like a case of one step forward and two steps backward. The definitions of certain phrases mentioned in UAS Rules are vague and indistinct. The regulations impose different licensing and approval requirements on remote-controlled drivers, operators, manufacturers or importers, training institutions, and R&D institutions, which imposes a considerable burden on applicants. In addition, the procedures for obtaining these licenses are burdensome and depend on the outcome. In addition, the introduction of R&D licenses in the UAS field will hinder innovation. Penalties on failure to obeying UAS Rules are very high. 

The Jammu air strike does makes it clear that there is a urgent need of rules and regulations in the drone ecosystem but these rules put heavy pressure on participants in the ecosystem, which may hinder the growth of the industry.

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