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Editorial Articles


Issue no 45, 5 - 11 February 2022

Making India A Global Drone Hub

The Government of India on 26th January, 2022, notified the Drone Certification Scheme (DCS), building on the momentum unleashed by the Drone Rules of 25th August 2021 that significantly eased regulations around the use of drones in India. The objective of this DCS is to provide the minimum requirements for airworthiness-safety and security requirements- for drones and enable their evaluation for certification. This is another step in making India a drone hub of the world by 2030. In an interview with Durga Nath Swarnkar for Employment News, Shri Amber Dubey Joint Secretary in Ministry of Civil Aviation and head of the Drones Division, spoke in detail about how the Government has been working to establish a globally-leading drone ecosystem in India, which will create the physical and digital infrastructure to support safe, efficient and secure operation of drones in the Indian airspace.

Question: What are the categories of drones that can be used for nonmilitary purpose?

Amber Dubey: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or drones are categorised into the following three categories, namely - aeroplane, rotorcraft and hybrid. In simple terms, an aeroplane has fixed wings (like a typical Air India or Indigo Aircraft) and rotorcraft have two or more sets of rotating wings (like a helicopter). The hybrid drone is a combination of the two- wherein the vertical lift may be provided by vertical-axis rotors and forward motion may be through one or more propellers.

The aeroplane, rotorcraft and hybrid drones are further sub-categorised as remotely piloted aircraft system, model remotely piloted aircraft system and autonomous unmanned aircraft system.

Drones offer tremendous benefits to almost all sectors of the economy. These include - agriculture, mining, infrastructure, surveillance, emergency response, transportation, geo-spatial mapping, defence, and law enforcement to name a few.

Drones can be significant creators of employment and economic growth due to their reach, versatility, and ease of use, especially in India's remote and inaccessible areas.

One may struggle to think of an area where drones cannot be used. The drone technology is expected to be as ubiquitous as mobiles, computers and the internet.

Question: Please tell us briefly about the key sectors that have successfully adopted drone technology in India?

Amber Dubey: Agriculture-Spraydrones are helping farmers in optimizing the use of inputs (seed, fertilizers, water), to react more quickly to threats (weeds, pests, fungi), to save time crop scouting (validate treatment/actions taken), to improve variable-rate prescriptions in real time and estimate yield from a field. Use of drones saves our farmers from the harmful effects of chemical exposure to their eyes, lungs and skin.

Drones may be used to analyse the health of any vegetation or crop, as well as field areas infested with weeds, diseases, and pests, and the precise amounts of chemicals needed to combat these infestations can be applied based on this assessment, lowering the overall cost for the farmer.

Rural property mapping (SVAMITVA Scheme) - Under the revolutionary SVAMITVA Scheme, the government is using drone technology to map each residential property in each of the 6.6. lakh villages in India. This is the largest such drone-based property mapping project in the world. Rural property owners are given a digital property card that helps them carry out property transactions or raise loans with ease and transparency. Lakhs of digital property cards have been issued by December 2021.

Mining - In mining, drones have several applications like mine surveying, inventory management, stockpile estimation and hot spot detection etc. Mine surveying can be done using drones to provide detailed information about the sites before starting with mining projects and document their progress to visualize changes in site overtime.

Drones can access highly-toxic hard-to-reach areas for providing better insights for mine planning. In coal mines, drones can be used to detect hot spots in coal stockpiles to assess potential spontaneous combustion areas and enable personnel take preemptive measures. Drones can further aid in watershed management, blast planning, haul-route surface optimization and emergency response.

Surveillance - Drone surveillance helping in capturing still images and video to gather information about specific targets, which might be individuals, groups or environments. Drone surveillance enables surreptitiously gathering information about a target as captured from a distance or altitude.

 Defence - Drones can identify security and terrorism-related challenges and pinpoint vulnerable areas that are prone to various risks. Drones are the modern day force multiplier that can enhance the capabilities of security forces to contain terror and to counter the emerging challenges in defence and homeland security.

Law enforcement - Drones are being rapidly adopted by various law enforcement agencies throughout the world because of the several advantages.

 Drones are faster than conventional vehicles when used as first responders. They can reach a location within minutes after receiving an emergency request, and aerially assess the situation before human responders arrive.

The conventional method of deploying a manned helicopter is expensive and time-consuming, and may not be suitable for situations that require an immediate response.

Drones can save lives. Drones can be equipped with various attachments depending on the task; these payloads can be controlled by a single officer from a safe distance. This is useful in dangerous situations like counter-insurgency, hostage rescue, car-chase, etc. where a police officer can engage a perpetrator from a safe distance without risking the officer's life.

Drones are a potent public safety tool. Drones can cover a large area easily, and they can be equipped with thermal sensors. These make them effective in search and rescue operations.

Question: Please tell us about India's ambition to become a drone manufacturing hub.

Amber Dubey: Given its traditional strengths in innovation, information technology, frugal engineering and its huge domestic demand, India has the potential of becoming a global drone hub by 2030.

The Central Government has carried out a series of reform measures such as the release of:

·         Liberalised Drone Rules, 2021 on 25th August 2021

·         Drone Airspace Map on 24th September 2021 

·         Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for drones on 30th September 2021 

·         UAS Traffic Management (UTM) Policy Framework on 24th October 2021

·         All application forms on the online single window DigitalSky Platform on 26th January 2022

·          Certification scheme for drones on 26th January 2022

These initiatives are intended to provide additional fillip to the fast-growing drone sector in India.

Question: Is there any specific provision for drone manufacturers in the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme? How does the drone industry stand to benefit from the scheme?

Amber Dubey: All manufacturers of drones and drone components whose annual sales turnover is above the following threshold shall be eligible for claiming PLI:

Indian MSME and startups

Indian Non-MSME

Drone 

(INR Cr)

Component

(INR Cr)

Drone

(INR Cr)

Component

(INR Cr)

2

0.5

4

1

 

 The total incentive is INR 120 crore spread over three financial years which is nearly double the combined turnover of all domestic drone manufacturers in FY 2020-21.

The PLI rate is 20% of the value addition, one of the highest among PLI schemes. The rate is kept constant at 20% for all three years, an exceptional treatment for drones.

The value addition shall be calculated as the annual sales revenue from drones and drone components (net of GST) minus the purchase cost (net of GST) of drone and drone components.

Minimum value addition norm at 40% of net sales for drones and drone components instead of 50%, an exceptional treatment for drones.

In case a manufacturer fails to meet the threshold for the eligible value addition for a particular financial year, she will be allowed to claim the lost incentive in the subsequent year if she makes up the shortfall in the subsequent year.

Question: What is the provision of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in drone industry? What kind of investment forecast do you currently have for this sector?

Amber Dubey: Drone Rules, 2021 does not have any restriction on foreign shareholding in Indian commercial drone companies. It is expected that Indian drone companies may receive an FDI of over INR 2,000 crore over the next three years.

Question: As specified in the New Drone Rules -2021, Drone Corridors are to be developed to facilitate cargo deliveries. What is the current status of the project?

Amber Dubey: National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) Policy Framework was released on 24th October 2021 to enable complex operations of drones and increase the overall safety in the UTM airspace.

Current Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems have not been designed to handle the traffic from unmanned aircraft. Integration of unmanned aircraft in the Indian airspace using conventional means may require unmanned aircraft to be equipped with bulky and expensive hardware, which is neither feasible nor advisable. This requires the creation of a separate, modern, primarily software based, automated UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system. Such systems may subsequently be integrated into traditional ATM systems.

The aim of National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) Policy Framework is to lay down a policy framework for enabling high density, complex unmanned aircraft operations in Very Low Level Indian airspace. This framework has defined the overall architecture of the UTM ecosystem and has recognised various stakeholders and their primary responsibilities. The operational scenarios, standards, business rules and technical requirements for UTM systems are evolving across the world. The Central Government plans to carry out an evidence-based policy formation for enabling UTM systems in India. The key steps involved therein are as follows.

a) The Central Government will publish a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) for UTM experiments.

b) The duration of such UTM experiment will not exceed six months.

c) The experiments will be outcomebased and each participating UTMSP will propose recommendations as per the RFEOI requirements.

d) The experiments will provide an opportunity for participating UTMSP to conduct sample integration with the DigitalSky Platform.

Question: The value chain of the drone sector comprises hardware, software and service delivery. What kind of employment generation are we looking at in these domains?

Amber Dubey: Thanks to the liberalised drone rules and the PLI scheme, the drones and drone components manufacturing industry may see an investment of over INR 5,000 crore over the next three years. The annual sales turnover of the drone manufacturing industry may grow from INR 60 crore in 2020-21 to over INR 900 crore in FY 2023-24. The drone manufacturing industry is expected to generate over 10,000 direct jobs over the next three years.

The drone-based service delivery industry (operations, logistics, data processing, traffic management etc.) is far bigger in scale than the drone manufacturing industry. It is expected to grow to over INR 30,000 crore in next three years and generate over five lakh jobs in three years.

Question: Do you think it is necessary to ensure industryacademia connect in order to prepare skilled manpower for this sector? What efforts are being made on this front?

 Amber Dubey: A close connect between Government, regulators, industry and academia is extremely important in any sector, especially one that is so technology-driven like drones. The fact that the UAS Rules, 2021 (notified in March 2021) were repealed in merely five months and replaced by the highly liberalised Drone Rules, 2021 (in August 2021) shows the close collaboration between the Government, industry and academia.

Leading academic institutions are helping the drone industry by way of cutting edge research projects and by providing incubator facilities to drone startups at a very low cost. Examples include the swarm drone projects at IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur, drone taxis at IIT Madras, petrol-engine based agridrones at Anna University etc. Most of the leading drone companies like IdeaForge, Aarav, Marut etc. are products of the incubation programs at leading academic institutions of India. This trend will grow multifold with time.

(The interviewee is an Officer of Press Information Bureau, Government of India).