Plane spotting: DGCA rules on photography at airports, of a plane, on an airplane in India

Plane photography is one of the most misunderstood hobbies in India. Take out a camera and point it at an aircraft, and you will invite suspicious views from people around you, including the security personnel.

These suspicions are however misplaced due to a complete ignorance of the law, both by the general populace as well as security personnel. Just two weeks ago, while I was flying with a domestic airline, I had to show their security officer copies of the rules before he was convinced.

Photography at airports in India or on-board an Indian carrier or a carrier flying in Indian airspace are controlled by rule 13 which is under part 2 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. Rule 13 states

No person shall take, or cause or permit to be taken, at a Government aerodrome or from an aircraft in flight, any photograph except in accordance with and subject to the terms and conditions of a permission in writing granted by the Director-General, a Joint Director General, a Deputy Director-General or the Director of Regulations and Information of the Civil Aviation Department :

Provided that the Director-General from time to time, may, by notification in the official Gazette, direct that these restrictions shall not apply to photography at any Government aerodrome, or within such limits of any Government aerodrome as may be specified in the order.

Photography at airports
Photography is permitted in the terminal buildings of (a) civilian airports and (b) the civil conclaves of defence airports for example Pune, Goa, Guwahati, etc., vide SO1353 dated December 9, 2004. However, please do exercise caution at defence airports and do not photograph the defence areas.

Photography on board or from an aircraft
Photography from an aircraft or on-board a scheduled flight, while on the ground or in the air is permitted to bonafide passengers only, and is limited to civil airports only. Photography at defence airports from an aircraft is a strict no-no. Refer to AIC-7/2004 again dated December 9, 2004.

Carriage of photographic equipment on board an aircraft
As unbelievable as this sounds, till June 14, 2005, the carriage of any photographic equipment on-board an aircraft was banned in India under rule 13A. Thankfully the government has rescinded rule 13A vide G.S.R. 401(E).

Photography near an airport
This is the grey area. If you are taking photographs of aircraft in the sky, it is your right, and there is no law under which this is disallowed.

If you are taking photographs from outside a civilian airport in to the airport, there is again no actual law preventing you. Rule 13 prohibits photography AT airports not OF airports. Do not take photographs at or into a defence airport, you are inviting trouble.

If confronted by security personnel or police
Many a time, the person confronting you has absolutely no clue of the rules. It is important to demonstrate your genuineness, your knowledge of Rule 13 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, and always keep copies of notifications with you as this will normally convince the person confronting you.

Police in New Delhi and Mumbai do have a reputation for harassing plane spotters, but given the heightened anti-terror needs of these cities, it is partly understandable. Again, stand your ground, politely explain your genuineness, and demonstrate you are familiar with rule 13 and you have copies of the various notifications.

To join fellow plane spotters visit and join the Facebook group of Aviation Photographers India Foundation, India’s first officially recognised plane spotting group. Do remember to give a brief description of yourself when requesting joining.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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