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India's Drone Revolution: Addressing Challenges and Building a Sustainable Future


India's Drone Industry
India's Drone Revolution

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.

 

1. Introduction


Drones have rapidly emerged from recreational toy to functional utilitarian technology with myriad of use cases in various industries. The vast use cases demonstrated by global and Indian players has been a catalyst that led to exponential growth in the last few years.


UAV operations in India is only decades old, but in recent years from defence equipment to commercial technology to indigenously developed drones, Indian drone industry has started traction and has wide potential to grow, driven by the increasing demand for drones in agriculture, logistics, surveillance, and environmental monitoring. The introduction of policies, regulations, and guidelines by Government of India has made commercial drone applications safer and accessible.


The drone service market in India has seen remarkable growth, with a value of USD 130.4 million in 2020 and a projected value of USD 4,918.9 million by 2030, showing a promising CAGR of 44.4%. Furthermore, the drone MRO services, drone training and education services sectors are predicted to expand even more rapidly, with respective CAGRs of 46.8% and 45.2% over the same period. These two segments are anticipated to hold a significant combined share of 25% by 2030, indicating the increasing demand for drone maintenance and education services in India.


In addition to the economic development of the country and becoming a leader, drones can contribute to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations such as SDG 2, 3 ,7 9,11 and 13.


The fast-paced advancement of drone technology and its increasing use in various industries highlight the pressing need for comprehensive comprehension of the regulatory, policy, and technological aspects of drone development and deployment.


The purpose of this paper is to understand, analyse and highlight the opportunities, challenges, and recommendations for the Indian drone industry to achieve the country’s goal to become Global Drone hub by 2030. This paper aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the issues facing the industry, that need to be addressed to fully realize the potential of the ecosystem for drones to become really viable and impactful in Indian Landscape.


2. Overview of Indian Drone Industry



Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation - www.digitalsky.com


The above classification of Drones by DGCA is to by weight and primary directive for regulatory compliance.


The drones can be further classified based on its type, its application, and other parameters. The common technological classification is based on the type and number of its wing as below:

  • Multi-rotor Drone

  • Single rotor

  • Fixed wing

  • Hybrid

Classification of Drone based on its operation are:

  • VLOS – Visual Line of Sight

  • BVLOS – Beyond Visual Line of Sight

  • Autonomous Operation drones


Image: Applications/use cases of drones currently applied/experimented in India


3. Indian Drone Industry Value Chain


Each stage of the drone value chain is interdependent and contributes to the overall growth and development of the drone industry. Understanding the various stages and activities involved in the drone value chain is crucial for stakeholders to make informed decisions and identify potential areas for innovation and growth.


Image: Drone Industry value Chain


4. Enablers of Indian Drone ecosystem


With the goal of making India a global drone hub by 2023, 12 ministries of Government of India are involved in trying to boost the organic demand for drone manufacturers and services. These initiatives are likely to create around 1 Lakh drone pilot roles in the coming years. Reforming initiatives that enabled and enabling the growth of Indian Drone ecosystem are below:


5. Analysis of Key Enablers for Drone technology around the world and India


Respective Government’s regulations and initiatives plays a wide role in development of Drone Industry all around the world.


Also, globally nearly 50+ countries have no drone regulated regulations.


Regulations and Policy Initiatives that enabled the Use of Drone around various countries:

  • South Korea: Three Stage Air borne Traffic management System financed by state and Drone division incorporated by Ministry of Transport.

  • UK: Virtual Space to test drones and Regulatory sandbox to test and safely integrate new types of operations into low-level airspace.

  • Sweden: After dark flying with ensured safety and Privacy policies and permits to ensure safety.

  • China: Permission to use drones for Heavy- weight logistics opening up scope for scaling in logistic services industry.

Some other countries enabled Dedicated drone corridors, not one time permit for uncontrolled airspace, Standardised national drone safety signage among many other initiatives to encourage their countries drone ecosystem safely.


6. Factors influencing Growth of the Industry


The growth of the Indian Drone Industry has been driven by range of factors. Some of the key factors that have influenced the growth include:


6.1 Regulatory Support:


Current and future regulations and rules process and timeline will ultimately determine the viability of the drones in various applications. To promote the Industry, Government of India, and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has taken several initiatives and set up framework for regulating the drone Industry in the last few years. For example, the new set of guidelines from DGCA in 2022 aiming on the drone operations which has simplified the process of obtaining permission for commercial operation of drones has enhanced and introduced more the Commercial market share in India.


6.2 Technological Advancements:


With the Indian Drone Startups on rise and interest of young as well experienced talent pioneering into Industry and the advancement of technology, drones have become more efficient, reliable, and affordable, making them more accessible to a wider range of industries. This has also led to the development of new applications and use cases for drones.


6.3 Startup Ecosystem:


India has a vibrant startup ecosystem that is conducive to the growth of the drone industry. There are several startups working in the drone space, developing innovative solutions and creating new business models.


6.4 International partnerships:


The Indian drone industry has recently been partnering with international players to bring in advanced technology, knowledge, and expertise into the Indian market. This has helped to expand the scope and capabilities of the industry, providing more opportunities for growth and development.


7. Key challenges faced


While the Indian drone industry has been growing rapidly in recent years, there are still several challenges that the industry faces. Some of the key challenges that are currently faced by the Indian drone industry are discussed below:


7.1 Regulatory Challenges:


Although there are regulations in place for drones in India, the current regulatory framework can be seen as restrictive and cumbersome.

  • Restricted Airspace: Designated no fly zones near Airport, Military and government buildings makes it difficult for drone operations in urban areas.

  • Limited Autonomy and Automation: Indian drone regulations has rules that drones to be flown within visual line of Sight (VLOS) of the pilot/operator. This limitation makes it difficult to utilise the technology to increase cost and time efficiency.

  • The data privacy rules in Drone rules of 2021 have obligated operator to maintain the privacy of the citizens and their properties but it had several drawbacks one of them being that Operator can choose their own method of data protection which on discretion may lead to data violation. Then the Drone rules in 2022 enforced a self-regulatory model instead of creating a standardised protection method which still poses threat to Data privacy.

This is crucial time to bolster and fortify existing policies, develop all-encompassing comprehensive frameworks, which can result in better outcomes and set a new standard for the adoption of upcoming advanced technologies in India.


7.2 Technological Challenges:


To realise the goal of highly advanced drones and become international market leader, Indian Industry players should see development in following key areas:

  • Autonomous flight, BVLOS and Integrated Air traffic management – to increase potential applications and compete in global market.

  • Limited availability of Skilled Personnel with expertise in design, development, and Operations.

  • Battery performance and manufacturing to increase the Range and endurance of drones to increase the use cases other than only surveying and mapping.

  • Current Limited payload capacity models.

  • Counter/Anti-Drone Technology.

7.3 Infrastructure Challenges:


Current use cases of drones in India does not require any sophisticated infrastructure other than charging stations. But as the use cases and autonomy of drone increases, so will the requirement for charging stations, landing facilities and other connectivity requirements (in which private and public players in countries such as USA has started investing in). These infrastructure requirements will increase with the growth in altitude of airspace for UAVs.


Some such infra requirements in coming years will be:

  • Air taxi Service and charging stations.

  • Receiving and loading hubs for goods transport by drones

Many such futuristic requirements may seem as unfeasible and cost prohibitive but are ambitious goals for the future.



7.4 Public acceptance and Economic Drivers:


Along with the practical factors we discussed above, intangible factors such as public acceptance and Economic drivers also plays a vital role in support provided for the growth of the industry.


Commercial application of drone even if not completely accepted they are mostly accepted by the public as they are utilised where they provide direct benefit such as in Agriculture and Rescue operations. Acceptance of Drones as a common man equipment than something used by enterprise or government is yet to be analysed.


Not just operations such as delivery by drone and transport will drive or shape the future demand of the industry. Economic drivers such as automating, and operation streamline are to be kept at forefront by Industry when they develop their UAS Strategy. Stake holders of the industry should not only concentrate to develop transport and delivery related products, they also should concentrate on the other more attainable and lucrative applications, at least for shorter term to sustain and grow.


7.5 Another driver of Industry will be more open FDI policies and opening market for international players as this will increase the development of Competitive edge advanced technologies.


8. Recommendations


8.1 Short-term, low investment/high impact:


8.1.1 Simplified licensing: Simplifying the licensing process/Type certification for drones can have a significant impact on the growth of the drone industry in India, while requiring relatively low investment.


8.1.2 Public awareness: Undertaking public awareness campaigns to educate citizens on the benefits of drones can be achieved with a relatively low investment, while driving interest and demand for drone technology.


8.2 Long-term, high investment/high impact:


8.2.1 Research and development: Investing in research and development to improve drone technology and create new applications can lead to significant growth and innovation in the industry but requires a long-term investment.


8.3 Short-term, low investment/low impact:


8.3.1 Incentives and subsidies: Like the PLI scheme and Agricultural Infrastructure loans Offering incentives and subsidies to drone operators can stimulate investment and growth but may not have a significant impact on the industry in the short-term.


8.3.2 Standardization: Standardizing drone technology and components can improve safety and interoperability but may require significant industry collaboration and investment to achieve.


8.4 Long-term, low investment/low impact:


8.4.1 Skilled workforce: Not only Drone operators but Developing training programs and educational courses to produce a qualified drone Engineers requires a long-term investment but may not have a significant impact on the industry until there is more widespread adoption of drone technology.


8.4.2 Industry collaboration: Collaboration between government, industry, and academic institutions is important for creating a thriving drone ecosystem in India but may require a long-term investment with uncertain outcomes.


9. Conclusion


The use of drones is rapidly increasing, but the lack of an established infrastructure for managing low-altitude airspace poses challenges to their safe and efficient operation. India faces significant obstacles such as regulatory barriers, public acceptance, safety concerns, and infrastructure limitations in implementing drones on a large scale. To overcome these hurdles, public and private collaboration is essential to ensure that drones prioritize public safety while also addressing community interests. Aligning with global best practices and creating a conducive regulatory environment is crucial for India to capitalize on the potential benefits of drones and become a leader in the UAV industry. While drones are gaining momentum in niche areas of urban mobility, Agriculture and Surveillance their true potential can only be realized through widespread adoption. The Central and State Government bodies, in conjunction with industry and other stakeholders, must play a crucial role in this endeavour.


Meet The Thought Leaders



Laboni Singh is a mentor at GGI and is currently working at The Bridgespan Group as an Associate Consultant. She takes keen interest in socioeconomic development issues, public policy, and equity across different vectors of gender, caste, class, and ability, which in turn fuelled her transition from working at a global bank to the social sector. She is an Urban Fellow from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore and has a bachelor's degree in Economics from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi.


Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)



Deepa Anbazhagan is a Manager with Aerotics Technologies, Bangalore. With 7+ years of experience in Aerospace Industry. Deepa holds a General Management for Aerospace and Aviation Executive – Executive education diploma from Indian Institute of Management–Bangalore (IIM–Bangalore), and Bachelor degree in Aeronautical Engineering from ACE - Anna University, Chennai. In her current role, Deepa is responsible for Strategic Partnerships and Business development, Account Management and Operations for multiple projects. She is passionate about Aircrafts, books, food, and problem solving.


If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.

 

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