Until a few years ago, India, bound by restrictions and plagued by a lack of technology and talent, was no country for drones. In August 2021, the government has liberalized its drone policy. For a fortnight, hope has multiplied on the ground.
First, the public conversation is supportive.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her February 1 budget speech, encouraged the use of kisan drones (farmers) for crop assessment, digitizing land records and spraying insecticides and nutrients. The budget also cited opportunities for startups to offer drone as a service in sectors other than agriculture. It’s already happening in defense, logistics, Health care and more.
Second, there has been a concerted effort to nurture a local ecosystem.
To stimulate domestic manufacturing, the Ministry of Civil Aviation on February 9 prohibits the import of drones (but with exceptions in the fields of research, defense and security).
Two days later, to minimize red tape, he removed drone pilot license requirement. Pilots can now obtain remote pilot certificates from any of the 12 approved Directorates General of Civil Aviation drone schools through the one-stop DigitalSky platform instead of applying for licenses from the regulator. Even that is not necessary to operate non-commercial drones weighing less than 2 km.
“It would save time and money and help improve the ease of doing business in India,” said Vishal Saurav, CEO and founder of drone manufacturer VFLYX India.
There is a caveat, however: almost 90% of India’s unmanned aerial vehicles are imported, according to Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, CEO and co-founder of Skylark Drones.
“For the drone ecosystem to flourish and for new, innovative use cases to emerge, access to high-quality, cost-effective drone hardware is essential,” Ramasamy said. “It will be curious to see how the industry adapts and approaches this development which could, temporarily at least, derail some well-laid plans.”
The bulk – nearly 70% – of the drones used in India come from China, according to Gautam Vohra, vice president and head of telecommunications and engineering workforce at TeamLease Services. In addition to being an offer to realize the Made in India vision, the ban is probably also politically motivatedhe said.
But supplanting its neighbor will not be easy. China’s manufacturing capabilities are far superior to that of India. So is his semiconductor industry. Most products made in India are technically only assembled in Indiawith parts sourced from – you guessed it – China.
Luckily, the drone import ban only affects fully built, fully knocked down, and semi knocked down units. Components can still be imported.
“If I individually order 40 engines from an international supplier, that’s allowed,” said Swapnik Jakkampuddi, co-founder and COO of Skye Air Mobility. Quartz. “So that’s not going to stop the availability. It will just make more of an incentive for existing and new businesses to step in and fill that gap.
Apart from local companies, international companies can also establish production facilities in India.
The Indian drone industry
The Indian drone industry is ready to grow from Rs 80 crore now to Rs 900 crore over the next three years.
Commercial use cases will create significant jobs. “Even if there are some short-term hiccups, in the long run it will create significant job growth,” said TeamLease’s Vohra.
Beyond pilots, there will be roles for drone company technicians, fabrication shop workers, and aftermarket support personnel. Adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles can be accelerated if the government provides more specific production-related incentives and tax reductions.
“Currently, there is a huge gap between drone components and component designs available and required,” said Nitesh Jain, founder and CEO of coding academy. BeSingular.
“Government agencies like Hindustan Aeronautics and National Aerospace Laboratory should be proactive in supporting the development of the country’s drone ecosystem,” Jain said. “These agencies have years of knowledge in this department. They have advanced labs and engineers. In order to accelerate the successful localization of drone manufacturing, their assistance and mentorship is crucial.
Fortunately, government entities like the Airports Authority of India and the Home Ministry are increasingly open to a conversation even as industry players hope for more support, according to Skye Air’s Jakkampuddi.
This article first appeared on Quartz.