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What is holding back drone adoption in India?

Around the world, Drones are bringing in new metamorphosis with their superior capabilities. But, what are the factors holding back drone adoption in India?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are not a new disruption; they have already revolutionized various workflows with their diverse capabilities. India likewise understands the competencies. Even though the current regulations by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) are in the draft phase, it has not stopped organizations to grab on this evolving technology.  India is witnessing an increased adoption of UAVs, especially by government bodies. As per the research Report released by Industry chamber FICCI and Ernst and Young titling “Make in India for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, “Adoption of UAS is increasing in India and it is projected that the value of industry and market would be around US$ 885.7 million, while the global market size will touch US$ 21.47 billion by 2021”. The growth is anticipated in both military and commercial application. In fact, it is expected that the market for commercial end-users in India will overtake the military market in the country.

Present Scenario of UAS application in India

There is an ascending demand for drones in India over the past 5 years. Uses are first and foremost by law enforcement agencies (LEAs), PSUs and government agencies.  There have been a number of Indian Governmental Agencies and PSUs that have steered and even scaled up operations of drones for their construction and operations. Like an agency of the Government of India responsible for managing National Highwaysnetwork collects 3D digital mapping data using drone and employ it for calculation of citizens with property rights along the highway. National Railway System uses drone to monitor the construction progress of railway lines. UAS in railways is being used for inspection and tracking of progress of mega-project. Indian Public Sector Undertaking, engaged in the business of electricity generation and allied activities uses UAS for monitoring, inspection, intrusion detection and surveillance for its solar power plants. UAS are being employed in the mining sector and for disaster support. There is increased use of UAS in Agriculture sector not just for monitoring but they are also being used for seed sowing and paste control. Utility agencies are using the technology for surveillance of network of gas transmission pipelines.

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Looking at the increased use of UAS many private players are also coming up with new innovations and solutions to boost the use of the technology. But, all this is not an easy task.

Challenges for UAS adoption in India

There are certain challenges ranging from policies, market and operations which are encumbering the progression of UAS use in India. Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued draft guidelines on UAS titled “Requirements for Operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS)”. The intention is to execute a regulatory framework that can encourage the commercialization of drones in a diverse field. The policy is still waiting for approval.

Though, there is an existing policy as well which classifies drones in various categories and implement the course of action accordingly. As per the existing policy, application is based on the weight of the drone classified as micro which weighs less than 2 kgs and mini that weighs more than 2 kgs. The classification is based on Maximum Take-off Weight classification. Drones in India can only be flown up to 200ft Above Ground Level(AGL). This policy restricts the application mainly in power and utilities where the height of the tower is 400 feet AGL.

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Apart from policies, market scenario imposes another challenge. Drone market is still burgeoning in India. Companies involved in UAS market are still focusing on primary applications such as real-time monitoring which involves communicating information in real-time. Exploring AI, AR/VR, IoT and 3D modeling are still waiting to be explored.

How to overcome

Drones have great potential and to utilize the potential to its fullest, India needs to overcome challenges. For policy relaxation, report by FICCI and EY says that “Categories beginning from mini UAS are required to meet all operational and mandatory equipment requirements. Given that 2 kg payload is lesser side, it would benefit to have another category between the micro and mini categories so as to broaden the scope of activities and also save on the restrictive mandatory requirements with respect to the classifications”

“Government should also look at creating a separate class of UAS for research and development purposes. Experimental and under-development technologies do not always fall under previously established norms and will require a special class permitting operations’’, mentions the report. This will enable local development and testing of unmanned systems and promote indigenous research and manufacturing.

For market challenges, an online portal for applications and approvals would make the process more efficient and transparent, thereby generating more interest and encouraging more usage, suggests the report. The government needs to relook at the proposed procedure of issuance of Unmanned Aircraft Operators Permit specified in the draft DGCA circular. Attention to training, licensing and inductive environment for private players also needs consideration. The government should attract and promote foreign direct investment in order to supplement domestic capital, technology and skills, for accelerated economic growth.

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