Editor's Comment: This is the first of a two part series discussing the scope of India's drone market, in light of recent regulations directing their commercial and personal use. The new protocol aims to tap the myriad opportunities out there, aside from ones such as surveillance and area mapping; only restricting its use in locations like airports, around international borders and coastlines and most importantly in areas of strategic importance to the country’s military.
Over the last few years, India has been witnessing an exponential growth in the demand for commercial use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones. A FICCI report estimates the market to grow to around $886 million by 2021. Steering the narrative is the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the nation’s aviation regulator. No wonder drone manufacturers and operators are paying attention, especially after the regulator has released its latest set of rules and requirements, effective from December 2018.
Drones’ relative nascency in terms of mass adoption aside, they have already become quite central to the activities of certain government organizations and PSUs in India. Presently the private sector is not permitted to operate a UAV. But that would change from December thus opening an opportunity in a massively untapped market.
Experts like Rahul Papney, Lead Analyst of global market intelligence and advisory firm BIS Research, claim the market for commercial end-users in India will supersede the military market one by 2021.
Bird's Eye View Of Drone Usage In India & Oppurtunities In The Private Sector
Drones are currently being used by the army, government agencies and PSUs. In addition, centres of pilgrimage such as the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) also deploy UAVs as part of their security arrangement.
Application universe is diverse, ranging from Police departments utilizing them for surveillance in crowded situations (e.g. at Kumbh Mela ghats in 2019) to geo-locating natural disaster victims by specialist teams of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Drones can proficiently fulfil various inspection and project management tasks. Case-in-point is Indian Railways, benefiting from UAV-assisted 3D video-mapping on certain stretches, including part of the ambitious 3,360 km Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFC) project.
Similarly, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has deployed drones for 3D digital mapping of the Raebareli-Allahabad highway widening project. UAVs collected data to calculate compensation for people who had properties along the highway.
A state-run electric utilities company, PowerGrid Corporation of India, find drones useful for monitoring projects in hilly and inaccessible areas. Similarly, NTPC, the state-owned energy conglomerate is experimenting on use-cases for their application in solar power facilities, including inspection, intrusion detection and surveillance.
Such specific frameworks aside, private sector drone usage is expected to be even more creative, ranging from transporting products for e-commerce firms to private security companies conducting person-level surveillance using AI. They can assist in spraying pesticides, monitoring crops and identifying agricultural diseases. Infrastructure and real estate sector would conduct 3D mapping and GIS surveillance. Aerial photography market will boom and the odd enthusiast can ‘hobby fly’.
Having set the scene for this exciting new opportunity, I will next do a deep dive into DGCA's latest rules to understand where they got things right and areas where more clarity would be wanting. Stay tuned.
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