Drones find a wide application across different sectors in India Such as the mapping and surveying of topographies, agriculture, security and surveillance, aerial photography and videography, navigation, infrastructure solutions for roads and highways including transportation management in high-density urban zones, construction support, telecom services, LiDAR in mining, watershed management, and monitoring emergency/ disaster situations.
An important emerging use of drone technology is in the defense industry which shows strong indications of use in future armed conflicts and tactical military campaigns. Information gathering and dive-bombing operations are certain other uses that drones find on the modern battlefield.
India’s first pilotless drone was unveiled on 20, July. The drone “Varuna” has been specially made for the Indian Navy by the startup Sagar Defense Engineering and is to be used for transferring materials. The drone has a range of 25 km with a payload of 130kgs with 25-33 minutes of endurance.
In the consumer sector, commercial testing of drone technology for last-mile delivery of goods and services from businesses to customers in the sectors of e-commerce, healthcare, retail, and logistics are already in progress.
In the 2022 budget, the Finance Minister of India stated a need to introduce the Drone-as-a-service model in India especially in relation to the agriculture sector (“Kisan Drones”). It will include the use of drones to digitize land records, precisely monitor and assess the health of the crops, spraying of insecticides, pesticides, and nutrients etc. It is also notable that there are ongoing attempts to set up training institutes and establish courses and programs to increase the number of skilled personnel in the industry to apply drone technology in agriculture.
As of February 2022, India has banned the import of all drones and components that can assemble to create drones. It is done to encourage the domestic drone manufacturing industry to become a global drone hub by 2030. Some exceptions are there to this import ban for the defense industry, security purposes, and research and development of the technology. This has been done in the belief that the development of indigenous technology will lead to a demand for products and drone-related services in local markets and will also enable the creation of employment opportunities. And also, to ensure the regulation of drone technology and to prevent its misuse within Indian territories leading to defense-related risks including information leaks.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) regulations for the operation of civil drones in India:
- Registration and Licensing: All drones must be registered with the DGCA, and operators must have a license to fly them. Registrations can be done on the “Digital Sky platform” operated by the DGCA which provides a single-window online platform for drone registrations and approvals related to drone operations. To operate a drone in India, you must be registered with the DGCA and have a license to fly it. You must be over 18 years of age, have passed 10th standard exams, and have completed a training course from a DGCA-approved institution. You will also need to pass a written exam. Once the exam is passed, you will receive a remote pilot certificate from the DGCA via the Digital Sky Platform within 15 days. Once the certificate is issued, it is valid for 10 years.
A certificate is not required for operating nano drones (weighing less than 250 grams) and non-commercial micro drones (weighing less than 2 KG).
- Operator Requirements: Operators must be over 18 years of age, have completed a training course from a DGCA-approved institution, and pass a written exam. Once the drone operation license is issued, it is valid for 10 years.
- Restrictions on Use: There are restrictions on where and when operators can fly drones. For example, operators cannot fly near airports or in densely populated areas. Drone ownership and operation are far more simplified under the 2021 Rules than earlier regulations. But some restrictions are in place with specific emphasis on approvals, licenses, uses and compliances and drone operators must be aware of them to ensure full compliance with all applicable laws.
1. Green, Yellow, and Red Zones
- The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has also deployed an interactive airspace map on the Digital Sky Platform for the convenience of drone operators and all other stakeholders. The map is color-coded into Green, Yellow, and Red zones.
- While no permission is required to fly drones in the green zones, yellow zones are controlled airspace and need special permission to enter. Red zones are strictly no-fly zones. Red zones include areas such as military bases or nuclear power plants and other sensitive areas are restricted due to the risk of accidents or national security purposes.
2. Restriction on speed and elevation
- Operators should not fly Nano and micro drones over 50 ft. above ground level and above a speed of 25 m/s.
- No permission – No Take-off. In India, before every operation of a drone, permission is mandatory. Drone operators can see permission via a mobile app (covered under the digital sky platform) which automatically grants or rejects the permission. The specifications of drones permitted for use in India require them to be incapable of take-off without permission.
- Operators of drones must ensure that they comply with all these restrictions. Failure to do so could result in penalties, including a fine of up to INR 1,00,000.
Read Drone Rules, 2021 here.