Bafna Law Associates

Drone Law's Changing Legal Environment: Weighing Potential Risks And Benefits

Blog by – Adv. Akanksha P. Tipnis

Date – 11 Mar 2024


In recent years, the skies above our cities have seen a significant transformation with the rapid proliferation of drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles, once seen as a novelty, have evolved into powerful tools with immense potential. However, their widespread use has also raised pressing legal concerns, prompting a critical examination of their role in our society.
From delivering packages to conducting surveys and aiding in emergency response, drones have showcased their multifaceted utility. Yet, the legal framework surrounding their operation and usage remains a complex terrain, grappling with issues of privacy invasion, security threats, and regulatory challenges.

*Privacy and Surveillance
One of the foremost concerns pertains to privacy invasion. The ability of drones to capture high-definition images and videos raises significant ethical and legal questions regarding individuals’ right to privacy. Current laws often lag behind technological advancements, leaving a void in addressing the misuse of drones for intrusive surveillance.
Legal experts advocate for the development of stringent regulations that strike a balance between enabling legitimate uses of drones, such as in journalism and law enforcement, while safeguarding individuals’ privacy rights. The implementation of clear guidelines for data collection and restrictions on surveillance activities can be pivotal in mitigating these concerns.

*Security and Regulation
The airspace, traditionally regulated by aviation laws, is now witnessing a clash between established regulations and the disruptive nature of drone technology. Incidents of drones interfering with commercial flights have highlighted the pressing need for robust air traffic management systems and strict enforcement of no-fly zones.
Governments worldwide are revisiting their regulatory frameworks to address safety concerns. Mandatory registration, licensing for operators, and geofencing
technology to restrict drone flights in sensitive areas are among the measures being considered to ensure responsible drone usage.

In January 2022, the regulations regarding drones in India were governed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Drone Rules, 2021, which came into effect on August 25, 2021. These rules replaced the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, and introduced significant changes to the regulatory framework for drone operations in the country. Here’s an interpretation of some key aspects of these rules:

*Categorization of Drones:

  1. Nano Drones: Weighing less than 250 grams, these drones are exempted from the need for registration, but their operation still must adhere to specified regulations.
  2. Micro Drones: Drones weighing between 250 grams and 2 kilograms fall under this category. Registration is required, and specific operational guidelines need to be followed.
  3. Small Drones: Drones weighing between 2 kilograms and 25 kilograms are considered small drones. These drones require registration and must comply with more stringent regulations.
  4. Medium and Large Drones: Heavier drones, falling outside the small category, have separate and more comprehensive regulations and licensing requirements.

*Drone Operations:

  1. No-Permission-No-Takeoff (NPNT): All drones, except nano drones operating below 15 meters, must comply with NPNT. This system ensures that the drone has the necessary permissions before takeoff.
  2. Geofencing: Drones need to be equipped with geofencing capabilities to prevent them from entering restricted areas, including airports and other sensitive zones.
  3. Remote Pilot License (RPL): Operators need to obtain an RPL from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to fly drones. Different categories of drones might require different levels of licenses.

    *Drone Registration:
    1. Digital Sky Platform: Registration of drones, issuance of permits, and monitoring of drone flights are facilitated through the Digital Sky Platform, an online portal managed by the DGCA.
    2. Unique Identification Number (UIN) and Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP): Each drone must obtain a UIN, and the operator needs a UAOP from the DGCA.

    *Operational Permissions:
    1. Permission for Aerial Work: Specific permissions are required for any commercial or non-recreational drone operations, including for tasks such as photography, surveys, or deliveries.
    2. Restrictions on Certain Areas: There are no-fly zones and restricted areas where drone operations are prohibited for security reasons.
    3. Height Restrictions: Drones typically have altitude restrictions, and operating above certain heights might need special permissions.

    *Development Of Drone Uses In India
    Swiggy and Skylark have collaborated to trial their drone delivery system. This collaboration, joined by 19 others, received approval from the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) in June to conduct experimental drone flights in India beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). This will inturn offer a significant environmental advantage as they operate on batteries and do not release harmful pollutants into the air, unlike conventional motor vehicles commonly in use.

    *Penal Provisions
    Operating a drone without the necessary permissions constitutes offenses under sections 188, 286, 287, and 336 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Additionally, engaging in other unlawful activities may result in the application of various other sections of the Penal Code.

    *Case Study
    Four students and a professor of IIT-Kanpur’s Earth Sciences department were penalised for illegally flying a drone camera in the restricted area of the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR). They operate the drone camera through a mobile phone, from a few metres away, when the forest officials spotted them.

    The team was asked to pay a fine of Rs 40,000 for violation under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

    As drones continue to permeate our airspace, the legal landscape must adapt to accommodate their evolving role in society. Striking a delicate balance between harnessing their potential and safeguarding against threats is imperative. Robust regulatory frameworks that prioritize safety, privacy, and security are fundamental in ensuring that drones remain a force for progress rather than a source of discord. The path ahead involves collaborative efforts among stakeholders to shape a future where drones serve as aids rather than threats to society.
Drone Law’s Changing Legal Environment: Weighing Potential Risks and Benefits.
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