The DGCA Guidelines - A Step Forward
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM

On 02 Nov 2018, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued the Civil Aviation Requirements (CARs) governing the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) by civilians in the National Air Space. A time period of one month has been given for general public to respond with respect to any modifications or amendments that is desired, post which, the CARs will become effective from 01 Dec 20181.

This article examines the said CARs and highlights how its promulgation is a significant step forward from a stage not long ago (Oct 2014) when the DGCA had put a total ban on the flying of unmanned systems by the civilians for any purpose whatsoever.

Finite Resource, Multiple Users

Fundamentally, the national air space is a finite resource by volume. If multiple users want to use the same volume of the air space at the same time, their usage needs to be controlled and coordinated if mid-air collision is to avoided.

In the combat domain of the defence Services, the multiple users of air space include the aircrafts, attack helicopters, all kinds of missiles (surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-air, air-to-surface, cruise, anti-radiation, ship or submarine launched etc.), fire of artillery and air defence guns and rockets, counter rocket and motor fire, and above all, the unmanned aerial systems both for the reconnaissance, as well as, strike purposes.

In the defence forces, the battle function of ensuring optimal use of air space by its multiple users ensuring maximum freedom of action and minimum restriction is called the Air Space Control function. To execute this function in the battlefield, dedicated organisations exist at various levels of command hierarchy connected seamlessly to one central agency in which is vested the overall authority for control of air space. While this arrangement exists for the battlefield, it is the DGCA which regulates and controls the civil aviation traffic in national air space. Institutional linkages exist between the air space control authority of the Services and the DGCA.

One of the emerging challenges in the field of air space control is the need to regulate the movement of unmanned vehicles in the national air space. At the bottom-line of this challenge lies the likely possibility of the collision of such vehicles with the manned civil aviation traffic which can have catastrophic effect of putting in danger thousands of human lives. When even a small bird hit can mean a disaster to a civil airliner, a head-on collision with a loose-kite type of an unmanned platform can be a real disaster. It is for no small reason therefore, that even a slightest doubt about the presence of a possible drone or unmanned platform puts the entire schedule of civil aviation traffic out of gear to the extent of total runway shutdown.

Such incidents are regular at various civil airfields in the country. Just the other day, on 10 Aug 2018, the Indira Gandhi International Airport ( IGIA) had to shut down one of its three runways for over an hour when a Chennai bound Indigo flight spotted a flying object at about 2000 ft, three nautical miles from an active runway. The drone could not be shot down2. Similar thing happened on 21 August 2017 when a drone sighting by Air Asia Goa-Delhi flight forced a total runway shutdown for nearly an hour. 20 flights got delayed and 20 police and CISF teams geared into action3. It is a recurring phenomenon.

Besides the safety of the civilian traffic, another dangerous dimension of unaccounted drone flights is the chance of snooping, reconnaissance and aerial photography of sensitive political, military, industrial and other prohibited and restricted areas, or even a danger of weapon launch at these. It is no wonder therefore, that orders are in place to shoot down any unidentified and non-responding drone spotted in such areas.

Over a period of time, this problem of control has assumed critical importance owing to the mounting public pressure demanding the use of drones for the possibilities which are actually bursting at the seams both for the commercial as well as recreational purposes. From innovative business applications for publicity and delivery, to keep-watch roles, many agricultural applications, filming, photography, live coverage, to multiple possibilities in the industrial applications, the list can go on. Besides the organisational use, the demands from sport enthusiasts, hobbyists and trainers for opening the air space for drone flying has also been growing.

As mentioned earlier, the DGCA initially took a position of total ban on flights of unmanned vehicles for civilian use. In its Notification dated 07 Oct 2014, DGCA stated, " DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonise these) for certification and operation for use of unmanned aerial systems in the Indian Civil Airspace. Till such regulations are issued, no non-Government agency, organisation, or individual will launch any unmanned aerial system in the Indian Civil Airspace for any purpose whatsoever”4. Insertion of the unmanned platforms in national air space has been a challenge the world over. The national aviation regulator in the US, i.e. the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commenced the task of creating a roadmap for the integration civil unmanned aircraft systems in the national air space sometime in 2012-135.

Suffice to say that after having put out several drafts over the years and after having missed the task deadline of 2015, FAA could only put out an interim guideline in 2015 titled, "Overview of Small Unmanned Aerial System, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking". This guideline sets out the operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities and aircraft requirements for the persons aspiring to fly the unmanned aerial system in the US national air space6. The comprehensive guidelines in their final form is still a work in progress. Interestingly, it was only on 05 Oct 2018 that President Trump signed the FAA Re-authorisation Act of 2018 which establishes new conditions for recreational use of drones in the US national air space7.

The European Union (EU) faced a different set of challenges of trying to put out a common set of regulations for the entire EU region by trying to harmonise the heterogeneous national rules of member nations, each at varying level of implementation. The adopted process flow at the EU was to access and examine the national regulatory frameworks of member nations with international principles and guidelines in the light of literature on law, innovation and technology in arriving at a common regulations for the EU region. Here also, it is a work in progress looking at a future of 2025-2030 8,9.

What are the variables that make the task of finalising the regulations for the insertion of unmanned systems in the national air space so very complex? There are quite a few.

Very many different types of machines have to be classified and catered for. Besides this, permissibility or otherwise for a huge variety of possibilities of uses have to be examined serial-by-serial. There are many other issues like the need to establish user identity, certification requirements, catering for and ensuring training requirements of the fliers, putting in place a foolproof regime of restrictions and prohibitions expressed in terms of machines, personnel, flying activities etc., anti-privacy laws, provisions against voyeurism, legal provisions, safety and security issues, equipment maintenance and operating requirements, enforcement regime, penal provisions for violators, and more. All these have to be factored in.

Apart from all the above, the biggest challenge is to ensure safe usage of the airspace both by manned and unmanned platforms at the same time without fratricide. A whole lot of auto-conflict resolution mechanisms, establishing two-way communication protocols, putting in place the technologies for search-and- avoid capabilities, modifications of Air Traffic Control (ATC) rules and procedures to accommodate the unmanned flying etc. have to be put into place. The bottom-line remains safety and security of manned civil aviation traffic.

Keeping in mind the enormity of the challenges involved, DGCA has not done badly. In a run time of nearly three years from the total ban stage, it promulgated the first Draft Guidelines on operation of unmanned aircrafts in Sep 2016. After one round of iteration based on the comments by people, the revised document titled, "Requirements for Operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)", was put out in 2017 10. The current CARs is the latest draft in the public domain which will become effective on 01 Dec 2018, as stated earlier.

Salient Points of CARs

Salient points of the above document have been summarised in the following part.

For the purposes of CAR, the RPAS have been grouped into five categories namely, Nano (250 gm or less), Micro (250 gm-2 kg), Mini (2 kg-25 kg), Small (25-150 kg) and Large (greater than 150 kg).

Any of the above RPAS can be imported (with due import clearance) or locally purchased. In either case, there will be a requirement to obtain Equipment Type Approval from the Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the Department of Telecommunication for operation in the de-licensed frequency band(s). This approval is not required for the Nano category of RPAS.

Except for three categories of RPAS which are exempted, namely, Nano RPAS operating below 50 ft in uncontrolled airspace or enclosed premises, Micro RPAS operating below 200 ft in enclosed premises, or RPAS operated by National Technical Research Organisation, Aviation Research Centre and Central intelligence agencies, all others will require a Unique Identification Number (UIN) which will be issued by the DGCA upon processing of their applications online for which a ‘Digital Sky Platform’ has been created.

UIN can only be granted to a citizens of India, Central and State Governments, an Indian company (registered/Indian Chairman/two-third stakes etc.) or a foreign company having leased RPAS to an Indian registered company. In addition to the UIN, RPAS, leaving out the exempted categories as stated above, will also require to obtain an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from DGCA with a validity for five years for flying in the Indian civil airspace.

CARs lay down adequate instructions for safety and security as per a detailed programme prepared by Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. Aspects like reporting losses, damage to machines, accidents, preventing sabotage of ground station etc., have been covered. An important provisions is that once a UIN has been issued, the RPAS cannot be destroyed or disposed off in any manner or transferred to a third party without informing the DGCA.

CARs also stipulate the requirement of training of the operators (except for the category exempted above) through the DGCA approved Flying Training Organisation. Minimum age stipulation of 18 years and minimum education standard of 10th class pass (with English) is stipulated for a RPAS pilot.

The main portion of the CARS are the Operating Requirements which are laid down as a Standard Operating Procedure. Some of these include only day light flying within visual line of sight, minimum visibility of 5 km, cloud ceiling not less than 450 m, surface winds not more than 10 knots and no precipitation conditions (rain, hail, snow) etc.

All RPAS except for Nano operating below 50 ft in uncontrolled airspace or enclosed premises and Micro RPAS operating below 200 ft, have to file the flight plan 24 hours in advance and obtain ATC briefing, Air Defence Clearance and Flight Information Centre number. In addition, local Police Headquarters needs also to be informed.

CARs also lay down detailed operating restrictions by specifying the areas where the RPAS cannot be flown. These include an area of 5 km from an airport or within permanent or temporary prohibited, restricted or danger areas as notified by the Aviation Authority of India (AAI), or without prior approval over densely populated areas, or over or near an area affecting public safety, or where emergency operations are underway, within 50 km of the international borders and beyond 500 metre (horizontal) into the sea along the coastline, within a 5 km radius from Vijay Chowk in New Delhi and from a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft. RPAS are restricted from carrying out aerial photography or remote sensing surveys over restricted areas unless specific permission is granted on case-to-case basis.

In addition, the CARs also lays down minimum standards for manufacturing of RPAS, legal obligations on the operators for any damage or prejudice caused to property or persons, requirement of third party insurance and enforcement actions against violators by way of cancellation of UIN and UAOP, besides penal actions of penalties under various sections of Indian Penal Code, and the Aircraft Rules 1934 and 1937.


At the face of it, the CARs have covered a very comprehensive ground erring on the side of laying down a restriction rather than giving it a pass. It will take quite some time for the general public to comprehend all the provisions and comply with it in order to avoid enforcement action.

As of now, the exempted category from UIN and UAOP is only Nano RPAS up to 50 ft height or Micro RPAS up to 200 ft, this is unlikely to meet the requirements of unrestricted use by a large number of civil operators who want to carry out survey and aerial photography for a multitude of operations in the businesses and industry. For that, RPAS are required to operate at higher altitudes than 200 ft and carry survey/photographic/other payloads which may not be possible with Nano and Micro RPAS (250 gm to 2 kg). The only option will be to go through the elaborate procedure of obtaining UIN and UAOP which will hinder speed and freedom.

As of now, no deliveries are permitted even if an RPAS is operating below 50 ft. This is a big restriction since the major use of RPAS worldwide is commercial and business deliveries. It is hoped that as the regulations mature over time, the provision of commercial deliveries will be allowed.

While the Digital Sky Platform provides an online platform, the multiple requirements of scanning and uploading a large number of documents, proving identity on line, applying for air defence clearances, receiving ATC briefing and obtaining flight information centre number etc. will require a level of IT literacy which may or may not be there in the general public.

Looking at it positively, it will generate employment for a clan of IT facilitators who will provide their services for on-line documentation process where called for.

Over a period of time, the CARs will have to seek an institutional linkage with the body of air space control instructions laid down by the Services. In this, while the domain of operations (civil and military) may not clash, the link will be required for commonality of provisions and operating restrictions for sensitive areas.

In sum, the DGCA must be complemented for formulating comprehensive instructions through a series of iterations of successive public interface. It is hoped that the CARS will be welcomed both by the enthusiasts and the businesses alike to start with, and the same will continue to accommodate user aspirations over time, keeping the bottom-line of the safety of manned civil aviation traffic always uppermost in their minds.

  1. "Rules Governing Flying of Drones/ Remotely Piloted Aircrafts in India," at Accessed 17 Nov 2018.
  2. "Drone sighting Forces runway shutdown at Delhi Air port," at Accessed 18 Nov 18.
  3. "Delhi airport operations halted for nearly an hour over drone scare," at www. Accessed 18 Nov 18.
  4. "Public Notice -use of unmanned aerial vehicles/unmanned aerial systems-DGCA," at Accessed 18 Nov 2018.
  5. "Insertion of Unmanned in National Air Space - A Formidable Challenge", at Accessed 18 Nov 2018.
  6. "Overview of Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking- FAA," at www. Accessed 18 Nov 18.
  7. "Unmanned Aircraft Systems," at Accessed on 18 Nov 18.
  8. "Unmanned aircrafts- European Commission, "at>aernautics>rpas_en. Accessed 18 Nov 18.
  9. "Review of the Current Status of UAV Regulations- MDPI," at accessed 18 Nov 18.
  10. "Government of India office of the Director General of Civil Aviation Technical Centre," at Accessed on 19 Nov 2018.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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