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Drones to create a $5-billion market as Budget 2022 steps up focus on tech application

Drones may soon be available as a service and will help farmers in a range of functions in producing crops.

February 02, 2022 / 09:14 AM IST
Representative image.

Representative image.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s mention of Drone Shakti, a mission similar to those aimed at conserving water and building infrastructure, is another step by the government to make India a drone hub by 2030. Experts said the initiative will help make India’s drone sector a $5 billion market.

A new integrated office is to be opened in the ministry of civil aviation to facilitate faster growth, coordination and approvals for drones, officials said, asking not to be identified.

“Startups will be promoted to facilitate ‘Drone Shakti’ through varied applications and for Drone-as-a-Service (DrAAS),” Sitharaman said in her speech. The courses required for drone skills will be started in select Industrial Training Institutes in various states, she said.

DrAAS is a concept comparable with Software as a Service (SaaS), drone operators said. DrAAS would eliminate the need for government departments to purchase drones. Instead, the departments can rent drones, allowing them to become asset light and take advantage of the best available capability and latest technology in the market.

As technology advances, government departments are becoming increasingly cluttered with old devices. DrAAS would be a win-win situation for both the government and drone startups, the operators said.

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“Enabling DrAAS to facilitate Drone Shakti will open the doors for a Rs 30,000 crore drone service and enterprise market across various applications pan-India,” said Chirag Sharma, founder of Drone Destination, a manufacturer.

$5 billion market

The minister said the use of Kisan Drones will be promoted for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, spraying of insecticides and nutrients.

“The budget duly recognises the key role drone technology is playing in solving some really tough-to-solve problems for sectors like land records, infrastructure, mining, disaster management and agriculture,” said Vipul Singh, cofounder of AUS, a startup that develops professional drone solutions for enterprises. “The announcement of the Drone Shakti programme will continue to strengthen the sector, further making it at least a $5 billion market in India available primarily for domestic companies.”

Budget 2022 laid the foundation of Amrit Kaal – India at 75 to India at 100 – drones will rule the next three decades, so it is going to be the Drone Kaal,” said Vikram Singh Meena, founder of TechEagle, a drone delivery company. He said the budget clearly shows intent to improve connectivity, infrastructure and ease of living in hilly and border areas.

Logistics and transportation are big challenges in the hilly areas, which are priority regions for drones as a service.

Meena added that startups will be promoted to facilitate Drone Shakti through applications such as healthcare delivery, air taxis, on-demand delivery of parcels, agriculture, surveys and mapping.

According to Sharma, the budget widens the scope of drone usage by focusing on applications such as agri-spray, smart farming and precision agriculture, survey and mapping, asset inspection (railway, highway, oil and gas pipeline, power lines and solar panel) and skilling.

“We are hopeful that the implementation of Drone Shakti and Kisan Drones will create avenues for different government schemes that will push for proactive drone adoption and training. Such schemes will also encourage participation and inclusion of numerous drone startups in the country,” Sharma said.

Pointing out that the Indian drone industry is today at $1 billion and is likely to go to $6.8 billion in the next five years, Ankit Kumar, a director at Skye Air Mobility, said drones as a sector have the potential to attract the right investments and jobs to the country.

More efficient logistics

He said the use of drones at cargo terminals will enable faster, efficient and cost-effective logistics.

“With automation in play, there will be a high requirement of skilled manpower for organising the heavily unorganised logistics sector,” he said, adding that with funds from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) for startups, drones will be widely adopted by farmers and startups in the farm-to-home concept for crop protection, analytics, production forecasting and logistics.

A fund facilitated by Nabard will finance startups for agriculture and rural enterprises relevant for the farm produce value chain, Sitharaman said in her budget speech.

“The whole supply chain will be structured in a more automated way with data-driven agriculture being the driving force,” he said. “With the budget elaborating on Kisan Drones and Nabard’s fund deployment, we are certain the full potential of drones in agriculture can be explored.”

The budget’s focus on drones comes in the backdrop of the government’s efforts to make India a drone hub by 2030. The Union Cabinet approved a production-linked incentive scheme for domestic manufacture of drones and drone components in September. The proposed tenure of the scheme is three years starting in FY22.

In August, the government’s liberalised rules for drone usage, which the sector welcomed, although some said more could have been done to get the nascent industry up and running.

Several approvals were abolished, including the need to get a unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, operator permit, student remote pilot licences, remote pilot instructor authorisation and drone port authorisation.

Besides, the number of forms to be filled to operate drones was reduced to five from 25 and the types of fees to be paid were cut to four from 72.
Ashwini Phadnis is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
first published: Feb 1, 2022 08:21 pm
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