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India now has a dedicated Drones Directorate to focus exclusively on drones

You are reading it here first: India now has a dedicated Drones Directorate that will solely focus on managing the drones ecosystem in the country. The civil aviation regulator, DGCA, obtained the permission to set up the Directorate from the Finance Ministry, and the department — to begin with — will have eight officials from the DGCA, but will be expanded over time, Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Monday.

“This is a pleasant surprise since under the pandemic related austerity measures, formation of any new department undergoes extreme scrutiny. One more baby step towards making India the drone capital of the world,” Dubey wrote. At the moment it is unclear who the eight members of this department are, and we have reached out to the Civil Aviation Ministry for more details.

An industry source told MediaNama that the Directorate will have its own financial budget, which is presumably why the DGCA had to receive approval from the Finance Ministry. Another industry source said that the Directorate will help in creating more focus on the drones’ ecosystem, given that both DGCA, and the Civil Aviation Ministry have traditionally prioritised civil aviation operations over drones.

“Getting a single function to look at all the aspects of operations is going to reduce the need for running around to get a complete picture. We see this as a much needed focused measure where all the functions are equally motivated to do dedicated efforts on making India the drone capital of the world,” Ankit Meha, co-founder and CEO of drone maker ideaForge told MediaNama in a statement.

What the Directorate could look into: A dedicated draft legislation for drone use in the country was published in June, and the rules are currently in the draft stage, and the Directorate could look into finalising these rules.

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There is another important thing that the Directorate could look into: the multiple delays to rolling out no permission, no takeoff (NPNT) support to the Digital Sky platform. India’s drone rules mandate that only NPNT-compliant drones be allowed to fly, however, given that the functionality is yet to be baked into the Digital Sky platform, this provision has rarely been fulfilled.

How India’s drone space has changed over the last one year: The idea to set up a dedicated Drones Directorate was first proposed in 2019, by the then Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha, particularly to issue guidelines for drone operations, and for handling certification of drone pilots, among other things. Since then, the drone ecosystem has changed quite significantly:

  • Multiple drone training schools have been approved by the DGCA to train and certify drone operators — a prerequisite for obtaining a drone pilot license — and very recently had its first batch of certified drone pilots.
  • The DGCA has approved a third-party drone certification scheme to fast track drone certification in the country.
  • Insurance regulator, IRDAI, formed a working committee to look into drone insurance, and the group had already come out with a working paper. A few banks have also started offering drone insurance plans.

While the government is building the entire infrastructure for drone use in the country, it is also slowly and steadily allowing for more drone use. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a number of state governments deploy surveillance drones for containment exercises, but even beyond the pandemic, drones are now being deployed in multiple areas — including at critical infrastructure such as thermal power plants.

*Update at 3:55 pm: Updated with Ankit Mehta’s comment

MediaNama has prepared an exhaustive guide to the drone industry in India, encompassing regulations, use cases, concerns around privacy and surveillance, and the way forward for the industry. The guide is available here

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