- Ketan Swaraj Nair

The ability of drones to navigate the sky is like "vagrant clouds"

- Justice Robert H. Jackson


The tenacious human desire to fly has lead to the invention of a multitude of machines with the ability to achieve higher altitudes, which the human physiology disallows. After the first documented successful flight in 1903, the possibility of existence of such mechanical devices was realized. Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles[1] are the latest innovation in the field of such machines. Drones, like many other technologies, such as the internet and the GPS, share its origin in the military[2] where they were initially used for a bird’s eye view and other surveillance objectives. Acknowledging the potential that drones withhold, they were soon equipped with payloads that make them a lethal flying machine[3] without the drawback of constant risk of lives.

Introduced in the commercial market as toys, drones quickly began to attract the attention of commercial market. With a camera attached, the utility which they found in the sectors of security, surveillance, cinematography, engineering, construction among many others is unconventional.

However, the security and privacy risks that comes with devices as capable as drones, compels the government to regulate the manufacture, sale and usage of drones[4]. India had its first regulation in the sector in 2018, which was brief and limited to the core aspects of the sector. It did not allow for growth and the technological advancements made were omitted. Now the DGCA has released the Draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 to create an environment which inhabits the spectrum of issues relating to drones.


As the usage of drones for recreation, by businesses or for educational purposes continues to expand, the government through the Directorate General of Civil Aviation expects to regulate the production, import and usage of drones by creating a legislative environment which accommodates the UAVs’ in India. With a significant spike in the use of UAV in midst of the lockdown[5], the proposed draft of Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 (UAS) was notified on June 2, 2020 for consultation.[6]


The legislation which legalized drones in India has been effective since December, 2018 as the Requirements for Operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) under the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), 2018. It was enacted by the DGCA under the authority of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. It is commonly referred as the National Drone Policy, 2018. In India, UAVs’ has been termed as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). The guidelines sought to establish an ecosystem which inhabited the entire life cycle of a drone, starting from the manufacturing or the import of the RPA, to its operation. To facilitate such regulations, the registrations of the RPA and the pilot or UAO (Unmanned Aircraft Operator) were made compulsory. Also the RPAs’ were categorized according to their weight into five classes, namely, nano, micro, small, medium and large. Each RPA, save the nano, should be equipped with a Unique Identification Number (UIN) and the operators shall acquire an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP). To facilitate security training of the UAO has also been made compulsory. Keeping the developments around the world in respect of security and privacy violation issues raised by commercial drones[7] several operating restrictions have been placed. The standards to be maintained for the manufacture of RPAS, whether local or imported, were also directed.

To provide a forum for compliance to the regulations the Digital Sky platform was launched for the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)[8]. This platform enables the authorities to implement the regime of ‘no permission, no take-off’. Apart from flights within the unrestricted green zones, any operation of RPA shall acquire the three registrations of UIN, UAOP and the Online Permission Artifacts (OPA), i.e. the details such as the route and timings of the proposed flight to be complete. India witnessed its first NPNT-compliant flight in 2020.[9]


With the notification of the Draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 during a time in which RPAs’ found an additional utilities of sanitization and surveillance by the administrative authorities in the nation-wide lockdown for COVID-19[10], the DGCA dashed towards providing the country with a more comprehensive and inclusive legislation. The draft has resolved with the usage of the term Unmanned Aircraft System to address the drone systems. The characterization of UAS has been made into three categories which are:

  1. Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) – These will generally include the sector of commercial UAS which consists of a separate command and control links through a remote pilot station.

  2. Model Remotely Piloted Aircraft System – UAS for educational and research purposes will be included in this.

  3. Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System – UAS which does not require pilot for flight will be placed in this category. The aspect of Artificial Intelligence (A.I) and programmed flights are hence covered.

The draft rules can be contended to be in pace with the foreign regulations and also with the developments in the technology and usage of the UAS. The 9 part, 65 rules with 12 schedules has certain key differences in contrast with the existing guidelines. The aspects of leasing and transfer of drones have been brought under preview to enable more accessibility. Along with weight, the classification on the basis of flight capabilities such as speed and altitude in the nano division has also been introduced. A more comprehensive and elaborate stress has been emphasized onto the standardized manufacture by licensed manufacturers.

The important aspect of autonomous UAS, the phase in which the technology is currently being developed and tested, have been prohibited from operation under the draft rules. Operation of commercial remotely controlled systems has to be first tested over a period of time[11] and if the operations are conducted within the premises of the intended regulations the permission to operate autonomous UAS within the country may be validated. The prospective legality of the permitted usage of such flights is certainly within the consideration by the DGCA as the trials of such operations are already being tested.



Indian market has been cynical in the adaptation of new technologies[12]. The UAS market has not been compliant to the general trends. Reportedly, in a study published by FICCI and EY, the UAS market in India is expected to exceed over $885.7 million by the year 2021[13]. The use of drones was initially limited to recreational purposes merely as a toy and now the utility which has been developed by making some minor modifications, such as addition of a camera for the usage in the commercial market is unprecedented.

The unanticipated lockdown necessitated by the pandemic witnessed the utilization of drones in by authorities and law enforcements. UAS were used for spraying disinfectants for sanitization whereas the law enforcement employed drones for surveillance to ensure the compliance of the lockdown and social distancing norms by the public.

The major feature of drones comes from the camera attached which enables people to gain a perspective from an altitude and angles and as drones are very cost efficient and portable the adaptation of such a technology was imminent. In India, UAS has been effectively used by various industries. The majority of these industries such as the infrastructure and environmental studies use this for getting an eagle-eye perspective by scaling the ground and identifying points of interests over a piece of land. Cinematography has also rapidly adapted UAS for the cinematic shots which were previously only possible through expensive helicopters and the indigenous film industry is making appropriate use UAV.

Hazardous jobs which were previously inaccessible at such proximity, use hovering of drones for footages used for studies. Due to the extremely high temperatures, helicopters are unable to hover over volcanic craters for exploration but drones have provided scientists and researchers a much cheaper alternative for study of activities of a volcano. Similarly, drones were up to the job when surveillance of the radioactive zone near Chernobyl was required.[14]


The draft policy has also attracted criticism from the stakeholders and the Drone Federation of India has suggested certain changes to accommodate the interests of the market and create a route for dynamic growth of the sector.

An important change suggested is to create a single window forum for acquiring clearances for all aspects relating to UAVs’. The Digital Sky platform shall act as a one-stop window for clearances. Separation of model RPAS and experimental RPAS has also been contended.

These recommendations are intended to integrate into the law certain changes which provide a more holistic usage of drones. By distinguishing research and experimental RPAS, the federation has taken into account the development and utility of drones. Therefore, the comments or the recommendations made seem to be just and in consideration of the characteristics of the sector.


The UAV market in India, both for military usage and commercial applications, is in its initial stage in India. To comment on the appropriateness of law would be premature. The first Drone Policy was a legalizing and validating regulation to bring the sector under the ambit of law. Now, with the draft rules, the government has portrayed its inclination towards the regulation of drones. This measure can be termed as both an inclusive measure for an emerging market and a regulatory regime which is establishing guidelines for the protection of privacy and security. Therefore, the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 provides a stable territory to accommodate and nourish the civil drone market in India.

[1] Indian Legislations refer to drones as RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems). However they are also known as, UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). [2] Garrett D. McKinnon, The Birth of a Drone Nation: American Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Since 1917, LSU Master's Theses. 403, (2014). [3] A History of Drone Warfare, New York Times (New York), May 24, 2013, A8 sec. [4] R.A Clothier, et al., Risk Perception and the Public Acceptance of Drones. Risk Analysis, 35: 1167-83, (2015). doi:10.1111/risa.12330 [5] Rahul Tripathi, Covid-19 lockdown: Authorities rely on drone eye to maintain vigil, The Economic Times, (April 12, 2020). https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-lockdown-authorities-rely-on-drone-eye-to-maintain-vigil/articleshow/75112745.cms [6] DGCA, Notification, The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, (June 2, 2020). https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/?page=jsp/dgca/InventoryList/RegulationGuidance/CommentsInvited/pdf/Draft_UAS_Rules_2020.pdf&main4359/4235/servicename. [7] David A. Fischer, Dron't Stop Me Now: Prioritizing Drone Journalism in Commercial Drone Regulation, 43 Colum. J.L. & Arts, 107, (2019). [8] Digital Sky Portal, https://digitalsky.dgca.gov.in/. [9] India’s First NPNT Compliant Drone Flight Successfully Completed, Outlook India, (July 3, 2020), https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/indias-first-npnt-compliant-drone-flight-successfully-completed/1884984 [10] Anvit Srivastava, Covid-19: Drones drive surveillance in Delhi’s containment zones, Hindustan Times, (April 11, 2020). https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/eye-in-the-sky-drones-drive-surveillance-in-delhi-s-containment-zones/story uD2n3ZLLmgNRabOEEMHo8M.html.

[11] Alnoor Peermohammed, Government of India’s policy on delivery drones taking wing, The Economic Times, (Oct 08, 2019). https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/hardware/government-of-indias-policy-on-delivery-drones-taking-wing/articleshow/71485623.cms [12] India fastest growing market for unmanned aerial vehicles, The Economic Time, (March 26, 2018). https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-fastest-growing-market-for-unmanned-aerial-vehicles/articleshow/63466658.cms.   

[13] FICCI & EY, Countering Rouge Drones, http://www.ficci.in/publication.asp?spid=23108 (last visited July 3, 2020). [14] Emanuella Grinberg, Drone Footage Shows Derelict Remains of Chernobyl and City of Pripyat, CNN (Dec. 1, 2014), ttps://perma.cc/9YEU-R55J.    


  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram

© 2020 INDIA LAW AND POLICY BLOG. All Rights Reserved.