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India’s digital sky is ready to take off: Are you ready to board?

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Drone industry will bloom in the next few years; but not everyone will be able to book profit.

The drone industry is silently getting ready to take off in India. It will open up new economic window beyond e-commerce delivery and logistics. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, will impact many other industries. It is estimated that Indian drone industry will need at least a million drone pilots by 2025, but that is not all. India is also the fastest-growing drone market. From sales to service, income generation opportunity will be everywhere. Drone with artificial intelligence and 5G technology has the potential to revolutionise many industries, such as farming, insurance, safety & surveillance etc. Different government agencies also have started applying for DGCA node for flying drones. While the Karnataka Pollution Control Board is planning to use drones for better implementation of pollution control laws, the agriculture ministry wants to assess crop yield to facilitate the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) and its just the beginning. The estimated size of the world drone economy by 2025 ranges from USD 45.8 billion to USD 63.6 billion.

The Regulatory Preparedness:

India is ready to welcome this new economic avenue with its regulatory framework. The first recognition of UAF came in the form of Civil Aviation Requirements (CRA) issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in the year 2018. The CRA was issued under Aircraft Rules 1937. The CRA divides Remotely Piloted Aircrafts (RPA) into five categories;

  • Nano: less than or equal to 250 grams
  • Micro: greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg
  • Small: greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg
  • Medium: greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg
  • Large: greater than 150 kg

The airspace is generally divided into two categories, controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled airspace is where ATC service is available. In uncontrolled airspace there is no ATC service. Each drone, except nano category flying below 50 feet above the ground in uncontrolled airspace or in an enclosed premise, must obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN) from DGCA and has to be NPNT compliant. No Permission, No Takeoff (NPNT) is India’s adoption of an innovative techno-regulatory policy which ensures drones sold or imported in India cannot physically fly without permission.

All individual or organisation, be it a business organisation or non-profit who fly drone is called an operator. Operators need to obtain Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) except nano category flying below 50 ft and micro category flying below 200 ft, either in uncontrolled airspace or in enclosed premises. However, in case of micro drones, intimation has to be given to the local police station 24 hours prior to the scheduled flight. UAOP is also not required if the operator is NTRO, ARC or Central Intelligence Agency but they also have to give prior intimation of schedule flight to the local police station and ATC. UAOP is issued for five year but renewable.

All drone pilots, except for nano and micro category flying in uncontrolled airspace, shall attain practical ground training from any DGCA approved flying training organisation (FTO). For the smooth and hassle-free operation of drones, India’s bet is the online digital sky platform. Digital Sky platform is developed to handle the whole process of drone operation from application for UIN & UAOP to obtaining permission to fly.

The gray area between dream and reality:

Till date, there are only a handful of DGCA approved flying training organisation available in the country which does not seem sufficient to fulfil the increasing demand for trained drone pilots. There is still no approved drone training institute available in large part of the country. The high cost of professional drone pilot training is another problem. Many FTOs are charging up to one lakh rupees. On the other hand, monthly salary offers for drone pilots in different job portals ranges between twenty thousand to thirty thousand rupees. At present operators’ license cost is 25000 for five years. The cost factor coupled with tight regulatory requirements may raise a wall preventing a large section of the society from tasting the milk before the cream goes out of stock.

Author’s Bio: Jewel Chanda [LLB, LLM, MBL, MA(Env. & Dev.), MA(Sociology)] is a Doctoral Research Scholar of O.P. Jindal Global University. 

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