India: Rules Governing Flying Of Drones / Remotely Piloted Aircrafts In India

Last Updated: 9 November 2018
Article by Rupesh Gupta

The Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation ('DGCA'), Government of India, has issued the much-awaited Civil Aviation Requirements ('CAR') considering the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft ('RPA') by civilians for several purposes including but not limited to surveys for infrastructure monitoring. A remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), command and control links and related components form a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). CAR is issued under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937.

RPA is defined as an unmanned aircraft, which is piloted from a remote pilot station. Looking at the definition, a drone (commonly known term) will be an RPA under the provisions of CAR.

RPA is also deployed for multifarious imminent needs in technologically advanced world such as aerial surveys, commercial goods delivery, commercial photography, traffic monitoring, aerial damage assessment etc. DGCA recognized the need to encourage as well as regulate the use of UAS in India and accordingly formulated the CAR. CAR is scheduled to be effective from December 1, 2018.

Key features of CAR that will enable the companies, authorities and civilians to legally use drone/RPA in India are as follows:

Categories of RPA

Civil RPA is categorized in accordance with Maximum All-Up-Weight (including payload) as indicated below:

  1. Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams.
  2. Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg.
  3. Small: Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg.
  4. Medium: Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg.
  5. Large: Greater than 150 kg.

Application Process

For RPA imported in India

Any entity intending to import RPAs in India will be required to obtain Equipment Type Approval (ETA) from WPC Wing, Department of Telecommunication ('DoT') for operating in de-licensed frequency band(s). Such approval shall be valid for a particular make and model.

The applicant shall apply to DGCA for import clearance as per the form provided with the CAR. This rule will not apply to Nano category RPAs. Based upon the import clearance issued by DGCA, Directorate General of Foreign Trade ('DGFT') shall issue license for import of RPAS.

Upon receipt of import license, the applicant shall apply to DGCA for Unique Identification Number ('UIN') or Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit ('UOAP'), as applicable.

For RPAs locally purchased in India

The applicant shall obtain ETA from WPC Wing, DoT for operating in de-licensed frequency band(s). Such approval shall be valid for a particular make and model. The applicant shall submit information as per the format given with CAR along with application for issue of UIN / Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit ('UAOP'), as applicable.

All applications will be processed on case-to-case basis through "Digital Sky Platform".

Requirements for Issue of Unique Identification Number (UIN)

A Civil RPA shall require Unique Identification Number (UIN) from DGCA. UIN will be granted where the RPA is wholly owned either:

  1. By a citizen of India; or
  2. By the Central Government or any State Government or any company or corporation owned or controlled by either of the said Governments; or
  3. By a company or a body corporate provided that:

    1. it is registered and has its principal place of business within India;
    2. its chairman and at least two-thirds of its directors are citizens of India; and,
    3. its substantial ownership and effective control are vested in Indian nationals; or
  4. By a company or corporation registered elsewhere than in India, provided that such company or corporation has leased the RPAs to any organization mentioned in (b) or (c) above.

In order to obtain UNI, documents that are listed in Rule 6.2 will be required to be submitted by the applicant to DGCA along with duly filled application (through Digital Sky Platform), as per Annexure IV provided with CAR and a fee of INR 1000/-. Besides general and equipment related documents, security clearance from MHA is mandatory in case of above mentioned (a), (c) & Indian company or corporate leasing RPAs from a company or corporate registered elsewhere than in India under 6.1, (d) not earlier than five years from date of application for UIN.

FAQ issued by DGCA points out that foreigners are currently not allowed to fly drones in India. For commercial purpose, they need to lease RPAs to an Indian entity who in-turn will obtain Unique Identification Number (UIN) and UAOP from DGCA.

A citizen of India shall either obtain security clearance from MHA or submit self-attested copies of at least two out of three valid identity proofs viz. Passport, Driving License or Aadhar Card. The requisite form for security clearance has been provided with CAR.

In case the documents are in order, the UIN shall be issued in 02 working days.

Exemption of requirement to obtain UIN will apply to :

  1. RPAs in Nano category intended to fly upto 50 feet (15 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises for commercial / recreational / R&D purposes.
  2. RPAs owned / operated by National Technical Research Organization, Aviation Research Centre and Central Intelligence Agencies.

Requirements for Issue of Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP)

In addition to obtaining UIN, all Civil RPA operators, other than those mentioned herein below, shall require UAOP from DGCA:

  1. A Nano RPA operating below 50 feet (15 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises.
  2. Micro RPA operating below 200 feet (60 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises. However, the user shall intimate to local police office 24 hours prior to the conduct of actual operations.
  3. RPA owned and operated by National Technical Research Organization, Aviation Research Centre and Central Intelligence Agencies. However, the agency shall intimate local police office and concerned ATS Units prior to the conduct of actual operations.

Application for Issuance of UAOP

A duly filled application as per the format provided with CAR along with requisite fees of INR 25,000/- has to be submitted to DGCA, through Digital Sky Platform, at least 7 working days prior to actual commencement of operations. The documents to be annexed will include:

  1. A Standard Operating Procedure detailing the procedure and mandates enumerated in CAR;
  2. Permission of the land/property owner (only for area used for take-off and landing of RPA);
  3. Details of remote pilot(s) along with security clearance from MHA or self-attested copies of at least two out of three valid identity proofs viz. Passport, Driving License or Aadhar Card and copies of training records;
  4. Insurance details (as applicable);
  5. Security programme as approved by Bureau of Civil Aviation Security ('BCAS').

In case the documents are in order, the UAOP shall be issued in 07 working days.

A UAOP is valid for a period of five years from the date of issue, non-transferrable and renewal shall be subject to fresh security clearance from MHA.

Security / Safety Requirements

The operator shall be responsible for the safe custody, security and access control of the RPAs and in case of loss of RPA, the operator shall report immediately to the local police office, BCAS and DGCA.

The operator of all RPA categories (except Nano RPA) shall be responsible for notifying any incident/ accident involving RPA to the Director of Air Safety, DGCA as per format made available with CAR.

In case, the RPA is damaged and cannot be restored to original condition, the same shall be notified to DGCA by the owner/ operator for cancellation of UIN. The RPAs operator shall ensure that all security measures as enumerated in the Security Programme (approved by BCAS) are in place before the operation of each flight.

The ground control station (while in use or in store) shall be secured from sabotage or unlawful interference.

The RPAs (issued with UIN) shall not be sold or disposed-off in any way to any person or firm without permission from DGCA.

Any changes in the contact details specified in UIN shall be immediately notified to DGCA and all other concerned agencies.

Remote Pilot Training Requirements

Remote pilot should have attained 18 years of age, passed 10th exam in English, and should have undergone ground/ practical training. Ground training can be obtained through any DGCA approved Flying Training Organization (FTO). The practical training shall comprise of RPA in flight having live component, and/ or simulated flight training to demonstrate control of RPA throughout its operating conditions, including safe recovery during emergencies and system malfunction.

Exemption

The requirements for Remote Pilot Training Requirements are not applicable for Nano and Micro category RPA pilots intending to operate in uncontrolled airspace. However, the owner and user shall be fully aware of responsibilities for all aspects of flight safety during such operations.

RPAs Maintenance Requirements

Besides maintaining and repairing RPAs as per manufacturer's approved procedures, a UAOP holder is also required to maintain records of each RPA flight as per format provided with CAR and make such records available to the DGCA on demand.

Equipment Requirements

All RPAs (except for Nano category intending to operate up to 50 feet (15 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises), are required to be equipped with specified serviceable components/ equipment. Indian Air Force will monitor movements of RPAs in the country in coordination with Airports Authority of India.

Operating Requirements

A Standard Operating Procedure as per the relevant sections of Aeronautical Information Publication has to be prepared by an RPA Operator. All RPA operations shall be restricted to day only, within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), subject to following conditions:

  1. RPA operations, except those in enclosed premises, shall be conducted only when the following meteorological conditions exist:

    1. During daylight (between sunrise and sunset).
    2. In Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) with a minimum ground visibility of 5 km and cloud ceiling not less than 1500 feet (450 m).
    3. Surface winds of not more than 10 knots or as specified by the manufacturer.
    4. No precipitation (rain, hail or snow) or thunderstorm activities, or exceeding those specified by the manufacturer.
  2. The RPA operator [except Nano category intending to operate up to 50 feet (15 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises] shall obtain permission before undertaking flight through 'Digital Sky Platform'.
  3. All RPA operators [except Nano and Micro category intending to operate up to 50 feet (15 m) above ground level and 200 feet (60 m) above ground level respectively in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises] are required to file flight plan at least 24 hours before actual operations and obtain following:

    1. ATC briefing, Meteorological (MET) briefing, and ATC clearance from the nearest ATC Unit
    2. Air Defense Clearance (ADC) from the nearest IAF Unit
    3. FIC Number from the Flight Information Centre (FIC) concerned.
  4. All RPA operators (except Nano RPA operating below 50 feet), shall inform the concerned local police office in writing prior to commencing the operations.

Operating Restrictions

CAR further specifies the areas within which an RPA shall be flown keeping in mind the security and safety protocols. It cannot be flown from a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft and over eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries notified by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change without prior permission. RPAs are restricted from carrying out aerial photography/remote sensing survey over restricted areas specified in CAR. Although DGCA may authorize such operations on case-to-case basis subject to approval of Ministry of Defense. In such a case, application shall be submitted to the Director Regulations & Information, DGCA (seven copies) in the prescribed format as indicated at Annexure-XI.

Minimum Standards for Manufacturing of RPAs (Both Indian & Foreign)

CAR further stipulates the minimum standards for manufacturing of Small and above categories of RPAs. For all categories of RPAs, except Nano, the manufacturer has to provide a Certificate of Compliance along with No Permission-No Takeoff compliance to DGCA.

Legal Obligations

CAR clarifies that the issuance of UIN and/ or UAOP by DGCA shall not confer any right on RPAs operator against the owner or resident of any land or building or over which the operations are conducted, or prejudice in any way the rights and remedies which a person may have in respect of any injury to persons or damage to property caused directly or indirectly by the RPA. Further, it shall not absolve the operator/ remote pilot from compliance with any other regulatory requirement, which may exist under the State or local law.

Insurance

It is mandatory for all civil RPA operators to have insurance with the liability that they might incur for any damage to third party resulting from the accident/ incident.

Enforcement Action

In case of violation of provisions of this CAR/ approved operating conditions, the UIN/ UAOP issued by DGCA shall be suspended/ cancelled. Breach of compliance to any of the requirements and falsification of records/ documents shall attract penal action including imposition of penalties as per applicable provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) (such as sections 287, 336, 337, 338). Necessary actions will be taken as per relevant sections of the Aircraft Act 1934 / the Aircraft Rules 1937 or any statutory provisions.

Analysis

While CAR is set to come into effect from December 1, 2018, it is likely to create doubts in the mind of RPA/ Drone users as to the complete understanding and compliance of the CAR to avoid Enforcement Action against them. Use of Drones is an important aspect in today's world and almost all major business entities require it for a purpose.

For infrastructure and real estate entities, use of drone is crucial at all times, especially during pre-tender survey in greenfield areas and due-diligence stage. Drones are also required to carry out and capture aerial survey of the progress of the works. While CAR makes it amply clear that there are no restrictions on Nano RPAs intended to fly upto 50 feet (15 m) above ground level in uncontrolled airspace/ enclosed premises for commercial / recreational / R&D purposes, Nano RPAs may not be sufficient enough to carry out all the requisite heavy duty recording and allied activities.

FAQs published by DGCA states that delivery of items is not allowed as of now under CAR even if flying below 50 feet. Another FAQ states that RPAs can be used for agricultural purpose except for the purpose of spraying pesticides until specifically cleared. RPAs if issued with UIN, cannot be transferred or disposed-off without permission from DGCA. It will be required to undergo process of cancellation of UIN and the subsequent buyer will have to apply for fresh UIN through Digital Sky Platform.

Several grey areas and doubts remain to be answered by DGCA and clearly, all entities will have to cautious and careful while using or engaging any entity to use drone facility for them. DGCA has imposed strict enforcement action in case of violation of CAR as well as penal action, as may be applicable.

We look forward for further updates on the subject from DGCA and shall update our esteemed readers in our upcoming newsletters.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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