The applications of drones are numerous and in fields as diverse as agriculture, mapping, defence, and emergency response. This makes them indispensable in a country like India which has vast rural, forested, and hilly areas that cannot be easily accessed. As an emerging new technology that can be leveraged by different sectors, drones should be promoted so that their unique advantages are widely used.
In March 2021, the Central Government released the Drone Rules, 2021. The older rules involved significant paperwork and permissions and had a very limited “free to fly zone”. After going back to the drawing board, the new rules recently released by the government directly address these concerns and drastically decrease the paperwork and costs involved in owning, manufacturing, and operating drones. This will allow experts across fields to find innovative uses for drones within their work.
Ushering in a paradigm shift
For civil transport, drones present the opportunity to create new means of moving people from one place to another. Companies across the globe such as Boeing are developing flying taxis, with one forecast estimating that 4,30,000 flying taxis will be in service across the globe by 2040. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia stated ‘That time is not far when taxis, like the ones of Uber, etc., that you see on roads, you will see in the air under the drone policy. I believe this is very much possible,’ clearly indicating the level of impact that the policy is expected to have on our daily lives. The new rules appear to directly address this opportunity for Indian players, with drone corridors being created across the country for cargo deliveries. These will provide supply-chain opportunities aside from conventional surface and air transport.
Stage set for manufacturers
With all these different uses of drones in a vast number of fields, the stage is set for manufacturers, both start-ups and older companies, to study and develop both the technology and the different applications of drones. The Indian drone industry already has over 100 manufacturers and 200 service providers and provides employment to nearly 25,000 people. Accordingly, the new rules facilitate the development of drone manufacturing in the country. Research and development of drones is to be unhindered and R&D units and prototypes will require neither a remote pilot license for operation nor a Type Certificate (certificate of quality and airworthiness). Additionally, the industry will be given a six-month lead time to comply with safety and security features like “no permission – no takeoff” and geo-fencing.
Obtaining a license also set to become easier
Under the new policy, the government has created a single platform to self-generate permissions, register and transfer drones, and download standard operating procedures and training manuals. Dubbed the ‘digital sky platform’, it has an interactive airspace map that describes the different zones for drone operation and the permissions required for the same. A green zone with minimal restrictions has also been designated, with the new policy expanding its coverage.
The rules also include additional steps to promote drone usage and the growth of the drone industry. A drone promotion council will be set up with members of academia, start-ups and other stakeholder organizations. To improve the ease of accessibility, the fees associated with drone usage have also been disassociated from drone size or weight and are at a fixed nominal rate. These rules improve opportunities while providing minimum hindrance in the form of bureaucratic red tape. The Central Government’s new drone rules are thus an important step towards growing India’s drone market and making the country a global drone-manufacturing hub.