In end-August, the government liberalised the policy governing the operation of drones in the country. Experts say that the Drone Rules 2021 are a step in the right direction and industry can now focus on building an investment-friendly ecosystem as well as work with the government on programmes that incentivise local manufacturing.
“Currently, drones are being used for visual line of sight (VLOS) applications like mapping, inspection of applications, and so on. The new rules liberalise some of those applications. The increase in the size of drones will include some early prototypes of air taxis as well,” says Smit Shah, director-partnerships at the Drone Federation of India.
The new Drone Rules do away with a host of approvals — the need to have a unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, and so on. The number of forms that need to be filled in has been slashed from 25 to five, and the number of fees to be paid before being able to operate drones from 72 to just four.
Further, the remote pilot licence fee, which was Rs 3,000 for a large drone, is now just Rs 100 for all drones irrespective of size; the need for security clearance prior to issuance of a registration or licence has been abolished; foreign ownership of companies operating drones has been allowed; and the rules will cover drones weighing up to 500 kg, thereby opening up the possibility of drone taxis.
Building drones in India will require some effort, but the Rules have made the path to achieving this easier, say experts.
“Setting up a unit that supports local manufacturing will take three months or longer. Broadly, it’s a three to six months’ project. And if you have drones for defence use or more sensitive usage, it may take a few years,” says Shah. He adds that industry will look to improve the quality of both manufacturing and services through drones.
While the Rules are a first step, there could be further policy boosts by way of production-linked incentives and dedicated funding to promote indigenous manufacturing.
“The Indian government has delivered the best Drone Rules one can imagine. Now the onus is on the domestic industry to grab the growth opportunity and scale up with all the existing external challenges. My take is that a few growth stage venture capitalists need to invest in this sector to make India a $5 billion market within the next three years,” said Vipul Singh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Aarav Unmanned Systems Pvt Ltd, in a LinkedIn post.
Academia, too, has welcomed the new Drone Rules: “We welcome this progressive step in ease of doing research and business, which will unleash the potential of R&D and startups. We expect that almost all sectors of the economy — agriculture, mining, infrastructure, surveillance, emergency response, transportation, geo-spatial mapping, defence, and law enforcement — shall gain tremendously from these rules,” said Abhay Karandikar, director at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in a LinkedIn post.
The IITs have been working on a host of applications involving drones with different types of capabilities and applications. IIT Kanpur has developed a Rotary Wing Unmanned Air Vehicle (RUAV) that can lift a three-kilo payload and fly for over two hours. The best range speed of the RUAV is 75 km per hour and the top speed can reach 120 km an hour. And IIT Madras has developed algorithms for drones that can analyse the behaviour of fire in shuttles, space stations, and satellites.
India is among the fastest-growing drone markets in the world, and according to a January 2020 PwC report, it is expected to be worth $885 million by the end of 2021. A report by Drone Industry Insights expects India’s drone market to reach $1.8 billion by 2025-26, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.61 per cent. The global drone market is projected to grow from $14 billion in 2018 to over $43 billion in 2024, at a CAGR of 20.5 per cent.