Do I need a license to operate drones?

Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA”) recently invited comments on Draft Air Transport Circular XX of 2016 (“Draft Guidelines”) which intends to lay down guidelines for operations of Civil Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”) in India and registration of such UAS by way of Unique Identification Number (“UIN”) through its notification dated April 22, 2016. You can read the draft guidelines here. Some of the contentious issues I observed in the Draft Guidelines are as follows:

Issue of UIN for all unmanned aircraft intended to be operated in India

Under the Draft Guidelines, you must obtain UIN for all unmanned aircrafts intended to be operated in India. This requirement applies even to model aircrafts used for recreational, sports or educational purposes and no exemption is provided for such model aircraft. Further, the ‘Micro’ category (less than 2 Kg) of Civil Unmanned Aircraft in the Draft Guidelines is currently too wide in its ambit as no further lower limit is fixed for this category. By corollary, it appears that even a small toy aircraft (weighing less than 250 grams) may require mandatory UIN.

Usage of model aircraft for recreational purpose is permitted in many jurisdictions, such as USA, UK, Australia, Germany, South Africa, France, Canada, Japan, etc. without any registration or certification requirement, subject to certain safety guidelines. The relevant rules and regulations in these countries have not imposed any onerous mandatory requirement for obtaining UIN or Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (“UAOP”) when the model aircraft is only used for hobby or recreational purposes.

With the present mandatory requirement of UIN for all UAS and certain critical documents to be attached with UIN application (including permission from Department of Telecommunication, character verification of remote pilots from local police station, Unmanned Aircraft Flight Manual (“UAFM”) or maintenance guidelines, in case these model aircraft are self-made), most of the hobbyist or wedding photographers using drones may find it quite onerous to obtain UIN.

Altitude Limit for Operations

The Draft Guidelines provides certain exemptions for operations of model aircraft within the altitude of 200 feet.

Usage of model aircraft for recreational purposes within 400 ft. is widely accepted in most of the countries such as, USA, UK, Australia, Germany, South Africa, France, Canada, Japan, etc. and does not require any permit if the operator adheres to certain safety guidelines. The international standard for operation of model aircrafts varies from 300 to 400 ft. AGL

This exemption for operations within 200 ft. AGL (Above Ground Level) should be increased to 400 ft.

Import of Unmanned Aircraft System/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicle/ Remotely Piloted Aircraft/ Drones

Policy condition no. 3 under Chapter 88 of ITC (HS), 2012 – Schedule 1 – (Import Policy) provides that import of these drones are restricted and you must obtain prior clearance of DGCA and import license from Director General of Foreign Trade (“DGFT”).

Therefore, except as mentioned above and till the time these Draft Guidelines are not made effective, you do not need to obtain any license or UIN for operations of these drones; provided you comply with other applicable laws (relating to privacy, secrecy, safety, etc.) and do not operate the drones in restricted areas (defence, government offices, etc.)


The content of this post is only for general information purposes and do not constitute legal advice. Therefore, you should not take any decision on the basis of any statement contained herein without seeking professional advice.

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