India to Legalize Commercial Drone Operations After Reversing UAV Ban

Officials have announced that commercial UAV flights will be legal by December.

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India banned the use and sale of hobby drones in October of 2014, with July reversing that policy and announcing that it was finalizing regulations and developing an online framework to provide civilians with an easy registration process for legal recreational drone flights in October. Now it seems even commercial drone applications will get the green light, as the government announced on Monday that flights within the line of sight will be permitted by December, according to The Economic Times

“The reason behind the policy is to ensure that these flying objects do not become unidentified flying objects,” said Indian Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha. “We have started with this and will be working continuously to ensure that the policy stays.”

Specifically, the announcement currently proposes legal permissions for commercial drone operations at an altitude of up to 400 feet and within the line of sight of the UAV’s pilot.

“We will allow use of drones within the line of sight for now,” said Sinha. “We have a task force that would in the future works [sic] toward allowing use of drones for beyond the line of sight.”

The announced policy changes for December’s commercial flights within the line of sight detail five varying categories of UAV operations based on drone weight and the intended application. Every type of drone operating in Indian airspace, except for nano drones, will have to undergo a registration process. An age requirement of 18 and a competent knowledge of the English language will also be required to garner proper permissions.

Regarding the process of actually taking off, registered commercial drone operators will be able to access the government’s Digital Sky Platform to garner permissions before deploying their UAVs. The unmanned traffic management system will provide aviation authorities and law enforcement with the adequate amount of information to oversee and manage any and all legal flights operating in Indian airspace at any given time.

“The Digital Sky Platform is the first-of-its-kind national unmanned traffic management system platform that ensures easier and faster permission, even from local police, for drone users,” said Director General of Civil Aviation, B. S. Bhullar. Currently, the government is making sure that all law enforcement offices have access to the Digital Sky Platform in order to be on the same page and capably garner approvals themselves, according to Aviation Secretary R.N. Chutney. 

Seemingly, this is a thorough step in the direction of practical and effective drone applications. Not only has India reversed its policy of banning the sale and use of hobby drones, but it has done so with a focus on proper registration and traffic management in mind. For a country with still-developing infrastructure in various regions and a roster of logical use cases regarding commercial drone operations, Monday's announcement is essentially a doubling down of reconsidering unmanned aerial technologies and their potential benefits.