Drones or Unmanned Aircraft Systems have tremendous potential to boost India’s economy and generate employment. Drones can contribute to all sectors of the economy, whether in defense, agriculture, medicine, transportation, or any other industry. Drones’ ease of use, reach, and adaptability help develop India’s remote and inaccessible areas. It has been predicted that India will be aglobal drone hub by 2030. India’s talent in information technology, frugal engineering and innovation, and large domestic market substantiate the abovementioned prediction. 

India has devised the Drone Rules, 2021 for civil drones. These Rules shall streamline the process of registering drones while ensuring safety and security in operation. However, legal gaps such as privacy, drone operations beyond Visual Line of Sight, legal liability of manufacturers, and other similar problems still need to be addressed. Thus, in this Blog Post, the author shall discuss the features of the Drone Rules, 2021 while analyzing its benefits and legal gaps. Additionally, the analysis will be comparative, followed by a conclusion highlighting the provisions that India can adopt.

1. Introduction to Drone Laws in India 

On 25 August 2021, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Indian Government) notified theDrone Rules 2021 (hereinafter 2021 Rules) under theAircraft Act, 1934, balancing innovation, security, and safety. Its foundation lies intouch monitoring, trust, and self-certification. On 11 February 2022, theDrone (Amendment) Rules 2022 (hereinafter 2022 Rules) were passed, replacing the requirement of a “remote pilot license” with a “remote pilot certificate” as per Rule 2 of the 2022 Rules. Earlier, as per Rule 31 of the 2021 Rules, individuals had to obtain a valid remote pilot license issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for operating a drone. Now, as per Rule 2 of the 2022 Rules, a remote pilot certificate by the authorized remote pilot training organization permits individuals to operate a drone. This resultantly simplifies the process of obtaining the requisite approval. 

The salient features of the amended 2021 Rules are as follows:

A. Scope

According to Rule 3(i) and 3(zb) of the 2021 Rules, “drone” means an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), i.e., “an aircraft that can operate autonomously or can be operated remotely without a pilot on board.” According to Rule 5 of the 2021 Rules, UAS are categorized into five systems qua their maximum all-up weight including payload: (i) nano UAS (less than or equal to 250 grams), (ii) micro UAS (more than 250 gms but less than or equal to 2 kilograms), (iii) small UAS (more than 2 kgs but less than or equal to 25 kgs), (iv) medium (more than 25 kgs but less than or equal to 150 kgs), and (v) large UAS (more than 150 kgs). This classification eases the use of nano and micro drones with minimal permissions. A nano drone is exempt from a remote pilot certificate (as per Rule 36 of the 2021 Rules), a type certificate (as per Rule 13(2) of the 2021 Rules), and third-party insurance (as per Rule 44 of the 2021 Rules). Additionally, according to Rule 36 of the 2021 Rules, microdrones can be operated without a remote pilot license for non-commercial purposes. 

According to Rule 2(1) of the 2021 Rules, the amended 2021 Rules apply to (i) all UAS registered in India; (ii) persons who own or possess, or are involved in leasing, exporting, transferring, or maintaining a UAS in India; and (iii) UAS already operating in or above India. It is pertinent to note that the 2021 Rules do not apply to UAS with a maximum all-up weight of more than 500 kgs (as theAircraft Rules, 1937, shall apply as per Rule 2(2) of the 2021 Rules) or to those that belong or are used by the military, naval, or air forces of the Indian Government (as per Rule 2(3) of the 2021 Rules).

B. Single-window approvals platform and reduced compliances 

The Union Ministry of Civil Aviation hasset up the “Digital Sky Platform online, ensuring a single window for obtaining approvals. Additionally, it minimizes human interaction and generates approvals automatically. Every UAS operating in India must register on the Digital Sky Platform, obtain a unique identification number (as per Rule 14 of the 2021 Rules), and conform to a type certificate (as per Rule 6 of the 2021 Rules) by filling out the required online form (as per Rules 9 and 15 of the 2021 Rules). Further, these approvalsdo not require a prior security clearance

The Director General will determine the standards for obtaining the type certificate based on the recommendations of the Quality Council of India (QCI, i.e., an independent organization created with the support of the Indian Government and industry bodies to set quality standards for products, services and processes) or an authorized testing entity (as per Rule 8 of the 2021 Rules). This will help assimilate the industries’ views and support andensure alignment with international standards. Additionally, Rule 9 of 2021 Rules requires the grant of type certificate within fifteen days, ensuring its grant efficiently. 

Moreover, the number of formshave been reduced from 25 (which existed under the earlier legal regime) to 5. The government fee is a nominal amount of INR 100 either for obtaining a type certificate, obtaining or renewing a remote pilot certificate, or obtaining, transferring or de-registration of a unique identification number (as per Rule 46 of the 2021 Rules). Remote pilot training organizations must pay a government fee of INR 1,000 for obtaining or renewing their authorization (as per Rule 46 of the 2021 Rules). 

Further, according to Rule 13 of the 2021 Rules, manufacturers and importers of a drone do not need to obtain a type certificate. However, a manufacturer and importer can get a unique identification number for their dronethrough a self-certification route on the Digital Sky Platform. A type certificate is also not required for operating a model remotely piloted aircraft system as per Rule 13 of the 2021 Rules (i.e., remotely piloted aircraft weighing up to 25 kgs and used only for educational, research, design, testing, or recreational purposes and operated within a Visual Line of Sight as per Rule 3(n) of the 2021 Rules). The 2021 Rules also provide a simplified process for transferring a drone to another person (as per Rule 17 of the 2021 Rules), de-registering it in case of loss or damage (as per Rule 18 of the 2021 Rules), and obtaining a unique identification number for a drone manufactured or imported into India on or before 30 November 2021 (as per Rule 16 of the 2021 Rules). 

To encourage self-monitoring, the Indian Government shalldevise Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) and Training Procedure Manuals (TPMs). Drone operatorswill not require permissions unless they significantly depart from these SoPs or TPMs. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfarereleased an SOP to be followed while using drones to spray pesticides or soil and crop nutrients. Operators will be allowed to use drones for spraying pesticides, irrespective of the drone’s weight or use case, provided the discharge of the substance is approved in the Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) issued by the DGCA. Thus, the reliability of drones used for spraying pesticides is ensured through the DGCA approval process.

C. Interactive Airspace and UAS traffic management 

The Digital Sky Platformshall display an interactive airspace map demarcating the drone flying zones into green, yellow, and red (as per Rule 19 and 20 of the 2021 Rules). According to Rule 21 of the 2021 Rules, before commencing the proposed flight plan, the remote pilot must check the interactive airspace map for any notification or restriction that may be applicable to the air space in which the remote pilot intends to fly. Further, according to Rule 22 of the 2021 Rules, drone operators require prior permission to navigate the red or yellow zone, while the green zone requires no prior permission. 

On 24 October 2021, the Indian Governmentpublished the “National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) Policy Framework,” which lays down guidelines for tracking drones operating up to 1000 feet above ground level via a software-based automated UAS traffic management system. The UTM Policy Framework establishes the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, monitoring the interaction of manned and unmanned aircraft, and laying down guidelines for integrating UTM systems with thecurrent Air Traffic Management System. Under the UTM Policy Framework, additional service providerswill facilitate safe drone flights via airspace surveillance and obstacle and weather tracking services.

D. Safety Provisions

Rule 12 of the 2021 Rules prescribes mandatory safety features for installation on a drone for its safe operation. These features must be installed on existing drones within six months from the date of notification of these safety measures. The measures include: “(a) ‘No Permission – No Takeoff’ (NPNT) hardware and firmware; (b) Real-time tracking beacon that communicates the drone’s location, altitude, speed and unique identification number; and (c) Geo-fencing capability.”

To safeguard national security, drones cannot carry arms, ammunition, explosives, military stores, munitions and implements of war, and other similar items, within or over India without written permission of the Central Government (as per Rule 27 of the 2021 Rules). Drones cannot carry dangerous goods unless they comply with theAircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003 (India) (as per Rule 28 of the 2021 Rules). It is illegal for drones to interfere in the Right of Way of a manned aircraft (as per Rule 29 of the 2021 Rules). Drones must be operated “without, directly or indirectly, endangering the safety and security of any person or property” (as per Rule 26 of the 2021 Rules). Reporting a drone accident within forty-eight hours to the DGCA is mandatory (as per Rule 30 of the 2021 Rules). Third-party insurance for compensating damage caused to life or property has been mandated for all drones (as per Rule 44 of the 2021 Rules).

Part VII of the 2021 Rules provides the legal framework for establishing a Remote Pilot Training Organization and Part VI of the 2021 Rules for obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate. These measures are to ensure the safe operation of drones by trained individuals.

E. Promotion of Drones

According to Rule 42 of the 2021 Rules, government research and development entities, government education institutions, start-ups, authorized testing entities, and drone manufacturers with a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number (GSTIN) are encouraged to use drones without permission for research, development, and testing purposes within the green zone. The 2021 Rules encourage establishing a framework for drone corridors for delivering goods (as per Rule 43(2)(a) of the 2021 Rules) and establishing a UAS Promotion Council (as per Rule 45 of the 2021 Rules). This Council shall formulate business-friendly regulations and promote incubators to develop UAS and counter-UAS technologies.

F. Foreign Drones and Import of Drones

The 2021 Rulesdo not restrict the ownership of foreign-owned drones. The foreign regulator-approved drones are accepted by the Indian authorities and issued type certification on that basis (as per Rule 10 of the 2021 Rules). Although,in February 2022, the Indian Government banned the importation of drones, importing drone components is permitted to encourage the local manufacture of drones. Government entities and recognized Research and Development organizationscan import drones for research and development, defense, and security purposes after government approvals.

G. Penalties

According to Rule 49(2) of the 2021 Rules, operating a drone in a red or yellow zone without prior permission and carrying arms, ammunition, and explosives in a drone is classified as a cognizable and non-compoundable offense. This allows the police officer to arrest the operator without a warrant and immediately start the investigation. The penalty for violation is limited to INR 1,00,000 (as per Rule 50 of the 2021 Rules). Further, according to Rule 53 of the 2021 Rules, DGCA can cancel or suspend drone approvals for a person violating the 2021 Rules.

2. Analysis

A. Benefits 

The 2021 Rules aim to balance technological advancement with safe and secure drone operation. The legal framework is based on minimum compliance and self-monitoring. The Digital Sky Platform haseased obtaining necessary approval via a single-window online platform. The concerned authoritiesneed to grant a type certificate within specific timelines, enabling stakeholders to obtain certification efficiently and plan the business accordingly. In a heartening move, the Indian Government, in consultation with QCI (or an authorized testing entity), shall set quality standards for obtaining the type certificate in consultation with the industry. The onus lies on the operator to ensure the drone conforms to the valid type certificate (as per Rule 14(3) of the 2021 Rules). All drones must obtain a unique identification number, ensuring that the operator is responsible for non-compliance or accidents. 

Safety and security are ensured by providing an interactive airspace map, dividing the airspace into zones requiring prior approval, and prescribing mandatory safety features requiring adoption by every drone. The publication of the UTM Policy Framework will enable the creation of automated software to monitor the interaction of unmanned and manned aircraft, track obstacles and weather conditions, and ensure safe drone flights. Provisions also ensure that neither directly nor indirectly safety and security of any person or property are endangered, and there is no carriage of dangerous goods or arms, ammunition, and explosives in the drones. 

Drone operators are compulsorily required to obtain third-party insurance to compensate in case of damage to a person or property. Foreign investments are encouraged by allowing foreign-owned and controlled Indian companies to manufacture and operate drones. Promoting foreign companies to invest in India will help bring advanced drone technologies and know-how to India. Drones used for research and development do not have to procure a type certificate and can operate without permission within the green zone. This, in turn, boosts start-ups in the drone sector. The 2021 Rules promote the development of counter-drone technologies to promote national security. The establishment of the UAS Promotion Council promotes a business-friendly regulatory regime. 

Theprojected growth of the Indian drone market is at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18% from 2017-23, with more than5,000 civil and military drone pilots by 2025. India’s drone and counter-drone market potential is estimated to beUSD 40 billion by 2030. The Indian Government is promoting the manufacture of drones and drone components throughthe Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme released in September 2021, which isexpected to attract an investment of over INR 5,000 crores over the next three years. The 2021 Rules ensure liberalizing the legal regime and promoting the drone economy. However, specific legal gaps require resolution to ensure the drone industry taps its full potential.

B. Unresolved Legal Issues

i. Ambiguities in approval procedures

There is no timeline with respect to specific approval procedures, such as obtaining a unique identification number and the procedure for transferring a drone and de-registering a drone. Thus, a timeline should be provided to ensure drone operators can make their business plans accordingly. There isambiguity regarding the inspection of drones and applicants in person before issuing the unique identification number. The unique identification numberwill be linked with the unique serial number provided by the manufacturer. However, it isunclear whether the manufacturer will issue the unique serial number or it will be given to the manufacturer by the concerned authorities. 

ii. Legal liability 

The legal liability is on the operator to ensure that the drone does not, directly or indirectly, endanger any person or property. However, manufacturers of drones are liability-free, while manufacturing defects can cause accidents with no involvement of the operator. Indian Drone Rules, 2021, do not impose any liability and compliances on the drone manufacturers. India could adopt theICAO UAS Model Regulations, 2020 (hereinafter 2020 Model Regulations), requiring the manufacturer to meet safety and industry standards (as per Regulations 102.305 and 102.307 of the 2020 Model Regulations). 

TheRome Convention, 1952 on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface (hereinafter Rome Convention, 1952) applies to aircraft but can be adapted for drones too. The Rome Convention 1952 is an international treaty that limits the damages caused directly to persons and property on the ground in a contracting State by aircraft registered in a foreign State that is also party to this Convention. The Rome Convention, 1952 also imposes an aggregate and strict liability on the operator and registered owner of the aircraft. Despite the limitations of the Rome Convention, 1952, India could adopt its principles for the legal liability of drones, such as imposing strict liability on the operator, registered owner, or wrongful user without consent, upon proving damage.

A protocol for law enforcement agencies is needed, given the potential of this technology in surveillance. The authorities also need to be given guidelines regarding reasonable and unreasonable use to avoid the unaccountable use of drones. Simultaneously, countermeasures are needed to tackle the misuse of drones by the public and to bring down rogue drones. 

Rule 30 of the 2021 Rules provides for mandatory reporting of an accident, yet the definition includes only severe or fatal injury to a person and necessitates expansion to include property damage.

iii. Safety Provisions 

While the 2021 Rules ensure safe drone operations, specific issues require addressing. Illustratively, drones operate in green zones sans permission, yet guidance for operation in a densely populated green zone is absent. The requirement for compulsorily reporting accidents necessitates measures for preventing accidents. The2021 Rules are quiet about carrying articles except for dangerous goods. Regulation 101.19 of the 2020 Model Regulations prohibits dropping articles from the UAS. Therefore, the 2021 Rulesneed to accommodate such risks. The lack of a mandate for collision avoidance mechanisms is a serious concern.NASA’s Low Altitude Tracking and Avoidance System (LATAS) can be a requirement in the 2021 Rules. The lack of a mechanism in forcefor terrorist threat management is another grave concern. 

Model Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) are drones, not requiring type certification, weighing up to 25 kgs, and are used for education, research, and recreational purposes. Thelack of a definition for “recreational” can lead to misuse. Drones for research and development purposes are exempt from certifications or permissions but canweigh up to 500 kgs and require approvals in place.Given the risks, obtaining a unique identification number should be a minimum for identification of the operator in case of accidents. Drones canoperate in “open area” green zones for research and development despite the ambiguity that densely populated areas are included or not, necessitating appropriate guidelines. 

Regulations 101.13(b) and 101.13(c) of the 2020 Model Regulations specify prerequisites for a person to operate UAS, like listening and broadcasting information on a specified frequency and knowledge of aeronautical radio. The operator needs a Remote Pilot License (as per Regulation 102.1, 102.3, and 102.5 of the 2020 Model Regulations) with an eligibility criterion and an application process prone to cancellation in case of violation of regulations or negligence (as per Regulation 102.11 of the 2020 Model Regulations). Crucially, it requires installing a safety management system with a risk management process, safety assurance measure, and internal audit mechanism. Elaborate division of the airspace into segregated, controlled aerodromes, and other similar divisions (as per Regulation 101.11, 101.13, and 101.23 of the 2020 Model Regulations), along with regulations regarding weather, night operations, operations near and over people, and other similar areas, have been proposed (as per Regulations 101.29, 101.31, and 101.35 of the 2020 Model Regulations). Similarly, India can adopt these measures to enhance the safety provisions.

iv. Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations 

The 2021 Rules lack guidelines regarding the operation of drones Beyond Visual Lines of Sight (BVLOS). This is potentially problematic for businesseslooking to lower costs and undertake BVLOS drone operations, especially for medicine deliveries, air taxis, remote surveillance, and inspection of pipelines,while also hampering research and development. 

Speculatively, the Indian Government inworking on a proposal to permit BVLOS drone operations.In May 2021, it granted permission to 20 entities to conduct experimental BVLOS drone operations for developing an evidence-based legal framework. The UTM Policy Frameworkwill facilitate BVLOS drone operations by creating automated software to track drones’ real-time location and ensure they do not collide. 

India may refer to the European Union (EU) when formulating a legal framework for BVLOS drone operations. In Europe, the EU Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA”) regulatory framework, i.e., theCommission Implementing Regulation (EU) on the Rules and Procedures for the Operation of Unmanned Aircrafts, 2019 (hereinafter 2019 Implementing Regulations), is based on risk (as per Articles 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the 2019 Implementing Regulations): (i)open category: these are low-risk drones weighing between 250 gm to 25 kg (as per Recital 15 and Article 4 of the 2019 Implementing Regulations); (ii) specific category: medium risk drones requiring prior permission to fly, assessing risk and adopting mitigation measures, unless they are operated in risk estimated areas (as per Part B of theamending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as regards standard scenarios for operations executed in or beyond the visual line of sight, 2020); (iii)certified category: these are high-risk drones carrying passengers or dangerous goods, and created as manned aircrafts.

Amongst these drones, specific category drones can be flown BLOVS over sparsely populated or controlled ground areas (as per Part B of theamending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as regards standard scenarios for operations executed in or beyond the visual line of sight, 2020). If a specific category drone needs to be operated BLOVS under any other scenario, an operational risk assessment is carried out before granting permission (as per Part B and Article 11(4)(a) of the 2019 Implementing Regulations). Theoperational risk assessment evaluates risks associated with intended drone operation, the safety of people on the ground, collision with another unmanned or manned aircraft, and loss of control of drone operating BVLOS. 

Theoperational risk assessment includes identifying Tactical Mitigation Performance Requirements (“TMPR”), reducing the risk of a mid-air collision, and adopting systems like detect and avoid system or traffic collision avoidance system. A comprehensive safety portfolio includes assessing drone manufacturers’ competence, training the remote crew, environmental conditions, and adopting methodsto monitor and communicate with drones and manage air traffic. 

In April 2020, EASA proposed an amendment to specify the conditions whereby a “specific” category of drones can operate BVLOS overpopulated areas. This proposed amendment aims at promoting safe operations of drones BVLOS in populated areas for commercial purposes. The European legal framework regarding drone operations BVLOS faces challenges, namely permission to be carried out insegregated air spaces and national authorities having different criteria for allowing drone operations BVLOS. 

Thus, the Indian authorities must learn from EU law as initiation and adopt similar mechanisms for granting permissions to drones to operate BVLOS in India after an operational risk assessment and appropriate mitigation strategies.

v. Privacy 

Shockingly “privacy” is absent in the amended 2021 Rules,given their ability to invade privacy by collecting data dynamically and capturing photos and videos where the people are identifiable. Other privacy concerns include invasion of privacy of body, space, location, and association, voyeurism, and dehumanization of people who are under surveillance. 

Previously in the Indian legal regime for drones, theAircraft Rules, 1937, read withCivil Aviation Requirements, 2018,  put a legal obligation on the drone operator to not intrude on the privacy of any entity without prescribing the privacy standards. In March 2021, this was replaced by theUnmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (hereinafter UAS Rules), requiring drone operators to protect the privacy of a person and their property by adopting suitable procedures and appropriate applications, but lacked specifications regarding “suitable procedures and appropriate applications.” Additionally, it prohibited sharing data collected by drones with third parties unless the consent of data subjects was obtained (as per Rule 27(h) of UAS Rules). These now stand replaced by the amended Drone Rules, 2021. 

Under the present Indian regime, privacy is protected as a part of a person’s constitutional right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, as observed inKharak Singh v. State of U.P. ThePersonal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (hereinafter PDP Bill, 2019) has also been tabled before the Parliament, awaiting approval. The data collected by drones will fall within “sensitive personal data under PDP Bill, specifying that processing/collection be done only with the “explicit consent” of the data subject (as per Section 11(3) of the PDP Bill, 2019). This burdens the drone operators with animpractical threshold to seek explicit consent and inform data subjects of the purpose of data processing and its consequences. Seeking exemption from the provisions of the PDP Bill, 2019 (as per Section 35 of the PDP Bill, 2019) would be difficult for the Indian Government, given the need to substantiate with written reasons and a procedure to oversee the operations and safeguard privacy risks, with “public order being an exception (as per Section 12(f) of the PDP Bill, 2019). 

Consequently, the risk of privacy intrusion by the Indian Government is enhanced. The Indian Governmentused drones for mass surveillance during farmer’s protests, Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, and for identifyinga violation of lockdown norms. Thus, this creates the imperative need for balancing citizens’ privacy and ensuring national security through government surveillance using drone operations. 

A legislation is required to satisfy the three-pronged test as mentioned inJustice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India. The test requires government agencies to follow the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality to the objective when collecting data. These principles should be adopted when drones collect commercial and national security data. Despite India’s rudimentary legal regime towards privacy, itneeds to define legal obligations towards safeguarding privacy relating to the use of drones. Another concept needing consideration isa “reasonable” breach of privacy, whereby one will determine whether the data collected by the drone is “reasonable” for commercial or surveillance purposes. The breach of privacy will be determined depending on the examination or processing of data. 

India can also adopt the EU model. The EU Legal Framework acknowledges the privacy risks posed when using drones and that unmanned aircraft should comply with the fundamental rights of privacy and data protection [1].The provisions of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) play a significant role in ensuring that drone operations safeguard confidentiality and data protection. It is essential tocomply with: the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), mandatory data processing records, the appointment of a data protection officer, data breach and audit procedures, mandatory privacy by design and default measures, and entering into data protection agreements. Article 74(3-5) of theRegulation (EU) 2018/1139 read with Article 23 ofRegulation (EU) 2016/679 provides for data storage for a limited time, and restricts the right of the data subject to access, rectify, and erase personal data stored for safeguarding civil aviation safety. Besides putting such legal obligations on drone operators, drone manufacturers must design drones to include technologies safeguarding privacy and conducting DPIA [2].They were recommended by Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, as well.Point 1.3 of Annex IX of Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 provides that drone operations, devices, and systems should adopt privacy by design. The 7 Privacy by Design (PbD) Principles for drones proposed by theCanadian Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, namely: “(1) measures have to be proactive not reactive, preventative and not remedial; (2) privacy should be default setting, and (3) embedded into the design; (4) should accommodate all legitimate interests in a positive-sum, for example, accommodating both privacy and security; (5) ensure full lifecycle data protection; (6) visibility and transparency concerning openness of technology and standards adopted; (7) a user-centric approach.” Thus, this EU Legal Framework and PbD principles serve as a model for India to ensure drone operations safeguard the privacy and data protection, and manufacturers design drones with privacy-friendly technologies.

3. Conclusion 

The Drone Rules, 2021 are instrumental in boosting the drone industry in India. It attempts to balance technological advancement with safety and security. The positive developments include the Digital Sky Platform for easing the process of obtaining certifications and licenses; providing exemptions to drones used for research and development purposes, ensuring that drones are operated by trained and authorized remote pilots; facilitating an interactive airspace map, and publishing a National UTM Policy Framework. However, the 2021 Rules lack regulations on aspects like drone operations BVLOS, privacy and data protection, and legal liability of manufacturers. These gaps need to be filled to revolutionize this sector in India.

A risk-based and flexible regulatory framework is needed to balance commercial viability and innovation. The police and law enforcement authoritiesneed training to handle accidents caused by drone operations. Harmonization of Drone Rules with other laws like intellectual property, information technology, criminal laws, data protection laws, and other related laws is required. India could take guidance from the 2020 Model Regulations and the EU laws regarding drone operations BVLOS and safeguarding privacy to arrive at a robust legal regime. Though India has taken the first step by introducing the 2021 Rules, it is far-flung from tapping into the drone industry’s full potential.


[1] Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2018 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Union Aviation Safety Agency, and amending Regulations (EC) No 2111/2005, (EC) No 1008/2008, (EU) No 996/2010, (EU) No 376/2014 and Directives 2014/30/EU and 2014/53/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 552/2004 and (EC) No 216/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91.

[2] David Wright & Rachel L. Finn, Making Drones More Acceptable with Privacy Impact Assessments, in THE FUTURE OF DRONE USE: OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS FROM ETHICAL AND LEGAL PERSPECTIVES 325-352 (Bart Custers ed., 2016).

About the Author 

Ms. Srishti Singhania is a commercial lawyer and mediator practicing at K Singhania & Co., a 25-year-old boutique law firm in Mumbai. She has worked for both Indian and foreign clients in fields of corporate and commercial laws, international commercial arbitration and mediation, and intellectual property law. She is a law graduate from National Law University, Delhi, in 2017, and has previously worked at a top tier law firm in India. She has recently completed her LLM in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution from Queen Mary University of London in 2022. 

Editorial Team 

Managing Editor: Naman Anand 

Editors-in-Chief: Hamna Viriyam and Muskaan Singh 

Senior Editor: Pushpit Singh

Co-ordinating Editor: Namrata Bhowmik

Junior Editor : Manav Ganapathy

Preferred Method of Citation  

Srishti Singhania, “Drone Laws of India: Off to a Flying Start?” (IJPIEL, 7 October 2022) 


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