The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) announced that from December 1st, 2018, flying drones will be legal in India. After several years, the civilian drone market is finally in motion. Along with the legalization come hefty restrictions and regulations for drone pilots to which they are supposed to adhere to at all times. These regulations are referred to as Drone Policy 1.0 or CAR (Civil Aviation Requirements).

The DGCA has divided drones into three categories:

    • Nano Drones – weighing less than 250 g
    • Micro-Drones – weighing between 250 g and 2 kg
  • Larger drones- weighing above 2 kg

The approval process is built upon the Digital Sky Platform. This platform will be the link to official communication between the pilots and the DGCA. Filing of reports and logs, requesting permission or registration will all be done through this platform.

The NPNT

Digital Sky is based on the policy of No permission-No take off (NPNT) and only those drones which comply with this policy can take off. NPNT is officially described as a software programme that enables every RPA to obtain valid permissions through digital sky platform before operating in India. However, nano drones which fly below 15 m are exempted from this rule. NPNT is basically the preflight permission. This includes data of the flight time, geo-fencing (flight boundaries and maximum altitude) and a long check-list which manufacturers are supposed to follow for a particular model of a drone. This data must be submitted before a drone commences its flight. Without Digital Sky’s approval, no drone will be able to take off. Apart from this, the pilot is also required to submit a written notice to the local police station. Only on successful completion of all the aforementioned steps, a drone can take off.

The rules that are mentioned by the DGCA are different with respect to the drones in each category:

Nano Drones: (Drones weighing below 250 g)

These drones are the ones with the most liberty. They can be flown without registration or permissions, provided that they fly below the altitude of 15m.

If a nano drone is flown above the prescribed altitude it will require all the permissions as well as registration.

Micro-Drones: (Drones weighing between 250 g to 2 kg)

Drones belonging to this category are required to get a registration number and attain preflight permissions from Digital Sky. These two rules are essential if the drone is flying up to an altitude of 60 m. However, if the drone exceeds the 60 m mark it must have an operator’s permit, a Remote Pilot license, and additional clearances.

The registration number is called the UIN (Unique Identification number) it’s a specific number given to a drone, more like a number plate for the drone. All drones except the nano drones are supposed to get a specific UIN.

Large Drones: (Drones weighing above 2 kg)

The large-scale drones are the ones which require all the available permissions to take off. These drones are generally not used by the common consumer unless for professional usage. Nevertheless, they require a UIN, preflight permissions, a Remote Pilot license, an operator’s permit, and other clearances. Without the aforementioned necessities flying a large-scale drone is illegal. This drone is permitted to hover up to an altitude of 120 m.

Obtaining a Remote Pilot Training Certificate:

Every individual requires some experience and a certain amount of skill to fly a bigger drone. That brings us to the necessary step of obtaining a Remote Pilot Training Certificate. Piloting a large drone requires practice and the DGCA does not intend on overlooking this step and has designated a 5-day training course for applicants which will have a syllabus containing theory lessons in radiotelephony (RT), flight planning, regulations and basics of aircraft and meteorology. Additionally, the course includes simulated flight training and real-time drone flights. The applicant must undergo flight training only by DGCA approved FTO (Flight Training Organization). The applicant must be 18 years of age and at least passed Grade 10th examination in English. Also, it is mandatory for the applicant to present two out of three valid identity proofs – Passport, Driving Licence or Aadhar Card.

Now, apart from the permissions on the flight, the DGCA has also provided drones with designated areas to fly by dividing the areas into three major categories:

Geo-fencing:

The flight areas are divided into three zones:

Red Zone: The areas flagged as the red zone are strictly prohibited for any drone.

Yellow Zone: This zone is classified as a restricted zone but only drones with adequate and limited permissions will be allowed in this airspace.

Green Zone:  This zone by default is a freely permitted zone for all drones and they can fly here without restriction but they do need to obtain documentation and the basic flight permissions as discussed earlier.

Obtaining an Operator’s Permit:

To obtain a pass into the restricted areas or very high altitudes an individual requires an operator’s permit which is also known as the Unmanned Aircrafts Operator’s Permit (UAOP) provided by the DGCA. An applicant for UAOP must possess a valid UIN, two identity proofs, insurance details, and proper flight training record. For in-depth knowledge of prerequisites, have a look at the DGCA RPAS Guidance Manual.

For obtaining a new UAOP the cost amounts to Rs 25,000. To renew an old one it costs Rs 10,000 and the permit comes with a validity of 5 years. The permit is issued for a single drone but for predefined areas, multiple pilots can use the same UAOP for the same drone.

Additional Clearances:

All drones weighing over 2 Kg and micro-drones flying above an altitude of 60 m require additional clearances. These clearances include:

  •        A flight plan needs to be submitted 24 hours before the operation
  •        ATC and Meteorological (MET) briefing
  •        Air Defense Clearance from the nearest IAF Unit
  •        FIC Number from concerned Flight Information Centre.

A quick look into the Do’s and Don’ts