Expanding Drone Ops to BRICS Countries

Freelance Contributor

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, sometimes referred to collectively by the acronym BRICS, represent five of the world’s fastest growing economies. As of 2015, half the world’s population lives in these five countries, and they are responsible for 22% of the gross world product. Thanks to their rapid development, there are great opportunities in the construction, engineering, and infrastructure industries in these nations, which are open to participation from international firms to varying degrees.

Though large companies might be reluctant to expand drone operations to countries whose regulations are still being sorted out, this article will give you a place to start.

Commercial Drone Operations in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro

Brazil, the closest in proximity to the United States, does not currently have regulations allowing commercial drones in its airspace. The following information relates to Brazil’s laws on recreational drone use, which may in time be used as a framework for coming commercial drone regulations.

The civil aviation authority of Brazil is called the Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil (ANAC), and it’s in charge of the administration of all drones in the country. The good news, at least for those who want to fly recreationally, is that the laws for UAVs under 25 kilograms are quite lenient. An operator must be 18 years old, carry third-party liability insurance, and register themselves and their aircraft via email with the ANAC. The maximum flight altitude is 400 feet AGL, though this shrinks to 200 feet in cities, and the drone must stay at least 100 feet away from other people. Flight is prohibited in bad weather, near airports, and beyond visual line of sight.

For heavier drones between 25 and 50 kilograms, regulations are more stringent. Such aircraft must undergo approval by the ANAC and register with the Brazilian Aeronautical Registry (RAB). The operator must obtain an Aeronautical Medical Certificate (CMA), a license, and apply for the proper permits. Additionally, you are required to register each drone flight with the ANAC.

For the full text of Brazil’s recreational drone laws, consult this document.

Above, you can see Rio de Janeiro’s airspace from the Skyward Map; here is São Paulo, the most populous city in the Americas.

São Paulo

Though it might be frustrating that two cities that offer such great opportunity are currently unavailable to commercial drone operations, take heart in the fact that their airspace is relatively open. When the day comes for commercial drones in Brazil, operators will have plenty of room to work.

Commercial Drone Operations in Russia


Due to a weak oil market, and economic sanctions over Ukraine hampering the government’s ability to do business, Russia’s construction industry is flagging—though there are indications that Russia intends to invest heavily in its infrastructure in coming years. The sanctions don’t prevent private foreign businesses from working in Russia, but representatives of foreign companies do need to apply for work visas, a lengthy process, though drone operators may be eligible for a fast-track procedure if they are deemed highly qualified foreign specialists (HQFS).

That being said, there are plenty of reasons that a company may want to expand drone operations into Russia. The country’s agriculture, mining, and infrastructure sectors stand to benefit immensely from incorporating unmanned aviation, and their drone regulatory structure, quite similar to America’s, is amenable to commercial drone use. Let’s take a closer look at the requirements.

All drones over 250 grams must be registered with State Civil Aviation Authority of Russia (SCAA), which involves fitting an identification plate to the aircraft. Thanks to a 2016 update to the existing drone laws, unmanned aircraft under 30 kilograms are allowed to fly “without preliminary certification and operational registration.” There is some conflicting information regarding the need to submit flight plan details to the SCAA, but for the time being all commercial operators should plan on doing so.

Each flight is required to have two personnel: a pilot and an observer. Otherwise, the laws for drone use are well within the bounds of what operators are used to in the United States. Flight around airports, military bases, and power plants is heavily controlled. Night flight and flying in inclement weather are disallowed. As is typical, flying over people and crowds is not permitted.

These views from the Skyward Airspace Map show Russia’s two largest cities, Moscow (above) and Saint Petersburg (below). Most of Saint Petersburg is covered in a blanket restriction, with only a sliver of open airspace. Moscow, though it appears to be mostly available, may contain unofficial or informal restrictions or local ordinances that you have to respect in order to operate within the bounds of the law. For instance, the Kremlin is in unrestricted territory on this map—but please do not fly over the Kremlin. If you are flying in Moscow, submitting a flight plan to the SCAA is essential.

Saint Petersburg

Commercial Drone Operations in India

As of October 2014, civilian drone flights are prohibited in India, except those with approval from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). No such approval has been given to any private citizen or organization. Though it is somewhat common to fly drones at low altitudes in unpopulated areas or on private property, doing so is a substantial legal risk and is not advisable for any legitimate commercial operation.

This is a shame, because India could benefit from a robust and open drone industry, which would nicely compliment their strong economy, particularly their construction sector, which is predicted to boom in the future.

Hopefully by that time the proposed drone circular released the DGCA will be codified as law, and the Indian commercial drone market can get off the ground. It would be wise to start laying the groundwork for your operations soon, because the draft contains several impediments to international involvement in the drone industry. If the legislation passes as it stands today, here is what you should expect:

All drones must be registered with a Unique Identification Number (UIN), and all operators need an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP). To obtain a UIN, you must be an Indian citizen, or “a company or body that is registered and has its principal place of business in India, its chairman and 2/3rds of directors are citizens of India and its ownership and effective control is in the hands of Indian nationals.” Well, needless to say, if the law passes in this form, it will present a significant roadblock to international interests, who may need to get creative with how they structure their drone operations in India, or hire local contractors.

Drone pilots will need to jump over their own hurdles. To fly commercially, or at an altitude over 200 feet, a UAOP is needed. To obtain this permit one must be 18 years or older and have “training equivalent to that undertaken by aircrew of manned aircraft or a private pilot’s license holder.” For every flight over 200 feet in altitude, operators are required to submit a flight plan to the local administrator, air traffic control, and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).

Flights must be conducted within a 500 meter radius in the operator’s line of sight and in clear weather. Dropping objects or substances during flight is prohibited without specific clearance, and third party liability insurance is required.

Take a look at the airspace maps for India’s three largest cities, Mumbai, Calcutta, and Delhi, the world’s second largest metro area. Though these maps are subject to change as the legislation develops, they are helpful insofar as they show the locations of major airports in these cities and the existing airspace restrictions.




Commercial Drone Operations in China

There is no official legislation in China, home to DJI, that expressly concerns drones. Informally drones are regulated by PRC Civil Aviation Law, PRC General Flight Rules, and the Regulations on General Aviation Flight Control. However, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has released documents that establish the framework for the regulation of drones.

The upper limit weight for a drone is 150 kilograms, with a maximum of 100 kilometers per hour. Drones weighing under 7 kilograms are less tightly regulated, though operators in larger cities (such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin) will face additional restrictions on where and when they can fly. Any drone heavier than 7 kilograms will require a license from the CAAC, and their approval is also needed for any commercial flights, or any flight in restricted airspace. Keep in mind that China has well over 150 cities with populations exceeding one million.

As you might expect, flying near airports and military installations is prohibited. This prohibition is enforced via an innovative new system with two parts, the “electric fence” and the “UAS Cloud.” The electric fence, which is not a literal fence but a combination of software and hardware, stops drones from entering restricted airspace, and the UAS Cloud documents all flight data. All drones over 7 kilograms must install these systems.

All operators are required to purchase third party liability insurance.

See below the airspace maps for three of China’s largest cities. Beijing is more or less wide open, while Shanghai and Tianjin are more restricted. However, there is plenty of room to operate in the space between restricted zones, and you can always apply to the CAAC for permission to fly in controlled airspace.





Commercial Drone Operations in South Africa


The newest member of the BRICS club, South Africa is expected to enjoy growth in its construction market, which spells good news for commercial drone operators. Drones (known as RPAS in their code) are controlled by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), though some municipal laws may impact your operations. You can read the full regulations here.

Drones are divided into weight classes: Class-1A are drones weighing less than 1.5 kilograms, Class-1B are less than 7 kilograms, and Class-1C and Class-2A are less than 20 kilograms.

To operate a drone for “non-private” (i.e. commercial) purposes, one must apply for an RPA Letter of Approval (RLA) and obtain a certificate of registration. This application process requires submitting information about your aircraft, including the manufacturer’s manual. The RPA, once registered, must be fitted with an engraved identification plate.

Pilots, who must be 18 or older, must go through a registration process as well in order to obtain their Remote Pilot License (RPL), which has three categories: Aeroplane, Helicopter, and Multi-Rotor. A license can also be endorsed for extended visual line-of-sight (E-VLOS) or beyond visual line-of-sight operations (B-VLOS). This involves a medical assessment, coursework, a practical assessment, and demonstrated proficiency in English. Pilots are required to keep a logbook of flight time, instrument time, simulation time, and instruction time.

The RPL lasts for two years from the date of issue. On top of this, in order to fly commercially, a pilot must also obtain an RPAS Operator Certificate (ROC). The process of application is lengthy, and involves developing a General Operations Manual, purchasing third-party liability insurance, and creating a safety management system – a professional, well-run drone operation should be doing these things in the first place, but there is a bureaucratic process to wrangle with in order to prove the soundness of your processes. Only ROC holders can operate beyond visual line of sight, in restricted areas, or within 50 meters of people, given approval from the CAA Director.

General restrictions are as follows: no flying over 400 feet above the ground, at night, within 50 meters of a person not involved with the operation or within 10 kilometers of an airport, or near nuclear power plants, prisons, crime scenes, courts, and police stations. Roads cannot be used for takeoffs or landings. Any of these restrictions can be lifted for an ROC holder who applies for a CAA permit.

Glancing at the Skyward Airspace Map for Johannesburg (above) and Cape Town, we can see pockmarks of red across both cities, but for the most part these cities are very open to drone flight. Despite the barriers to entry, South Africa looks to be among the more promising BRICS nations in respect to their embrace of aerial imaging technology in the near future.

If you’re interested in expanding your drone operation internationally, check out our recent article on that subject for more information. Remember to always read the laws in their original form, rather than reading a summarized version. The money you spend on a translator will be far less than any fines or penalties imposed on an illegal drone operation.

Cape Town