The immense opportunities drones can provide developing nations like India helped drive the Indian government to create and subsequently unveils its policy for operating drones in the country in December 2018. Named the Operations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) through Digital Sky Platform, this initiative is a detailed policy and regulations for operating drones.

Under this policy, which comes from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), drones have been divived into 5 categories according to their weight. Those classes include nano (less than or equal to 250 grams), micro (from 250 g to 2 kg), small (from 2 kg to 25 kg), medium (from 25 kg to 150 kg) and large (greater than 150 kg). Called “No Permission, No Takeoff” (NPNT), operators need to request permission to fly via a mobile app. If a drone pilot tries to fly without receiving permission from the Digital Sky Platform they will not be able to operate.

According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and global consultancy firm, EY, Indian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is expected to touch $885.7 million by 2021, while the global market size of drone is pegged at $21.47 billion. The report also said that this sector will provide employments to millions in the manufacturing sector, as well as in ancillary sectors. The implementation of drone will also boost the drone job market, since jobs for everyone from UAV operators to software developers to engineers will be created. The Indian government is also planning on investing extensively in research, training and skill development in robotics, AI, digital manufacturing, Big Data intelligence and Quantum communications, among many others.

Many states in India have already shown interest in using drone and artificial intelligence for agriculture and irrigation activities. One such state is Maharashtra, which has signed an agreement with US based drone firm, WeRobotics for using drone in agriculture sector. The state believes that this will help farmers in land mapping and pesticide usage. Outside of these applications, many universities are also working on developing drones. Because it can be prohibitively expensive to do so, local companies are also working on manufacturing drones to help meet local needs. India’s first cheap drone for use in agriculture has been developed by Lovely Professional University, which has developed a drone costing less than $200.

These new drones regulations for India are seen as a boon to the growing drone market, as the government believes that drones are the future and after integrating artificial intelligence, the technology can create more positives than negatives. To streamline the process, the government has created a policy where anyone can use drone, but a company or an individual needs to take permission and clearances before they use it. In only one case can a drone operate without permission, and that’s when they are flying a nano drone up to15 meters. The other four categories of drones require specific permissions from RPAS. In these instances, users will be required to ask for permission to fly through a mobile app, and an automated process will permit or deny the request instantly.

The Digital Sky Platform is an online portal for registration, applications and permissions for the use of drones for photography, recreational purposes as well as for commercial use as taxis or delivery vehicles and other services. Indian drone manufactures/importers have to follow the regulations set under the National Drone Policy as they have to customize their technology for specific geographies in India.

Many are asking why government wants to have a NPNT policy, but utilizing it became essential after so many drones/flying object were seen near airports in India. In October of 2014, India’s Civil Aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), decided to put a blanket ban on all of the drones in the country. The notification established the need for potential operators to take “approval from the Air Navigation Service provider i.e the Airport Authority of India, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other security agencies”, besides the DGCA.

This approach was taken because the technology represents such a big security and privacy issue to India, which has been facing terrorism since 40 years. However, since than government looking at the benefits the drone can bring to the economy and nation has been working on favorable drone policy. The most promising development to come from the 2014 notification was the future promise by Civil Aviation Ministry. “DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations and globally harmonize those for regulatory certification and operation for use of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in the Indian civil airspace.”

In April 2016, the DGCA prepared another set of draft guidelines on the use of drones for civilian or recreational purposes and invited suggestions and recommendations from different stakeholders for a period of 21 days. Not too long after, the DGCA and Government of India released the much-awaited National Drone Policy, 2018 version 1 (Drone Policy) on 27 August 2018 and also announced the implementation of policy that came into effect from 1 December 2018.

The Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said that the Drone Task Force is working on policy regulations for the future (Drone Regulations 2.0.) which will allow for flying automated drones that operate beyond the line of sight. This new policy will also regulate the certification of safe and controlled operation of drone hardware and software, airspace management through automated operations and the establishment of global standards, along with a few other modifications.

Many believe that India really has the potential to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of drone technology, given the challenges across infrastructure, urban transportation, security surveillance, progress monitoring etc. Only by working through the logistics and regulatory challenges that the technology represents will these benefits be enabled for the entire nation.