In yet another boost to the domestic manufacturing sector, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) further liberalised the drone certification scheme (DCS) on 26 January 2022. Aiming to make type-certification of drones “simpler, faster and transparent,” this scheme builds on the momentum unleashed by the Drones Rules of July 2021 that significantly eased regulations around the use of drones in India, and the subsequent Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for drones and drone components worth INR 120 crore. 

The easing of qualifications for drone certification fuels innovation within an emergent technology that is increasingly popular among professionals and amateurs, and whose use and application are cross-sectoral. From magnificent aerial photography to geospatial mapping and national defence, drones have the potential to significantly alter the nature of diverse fields, enhance efficacy and deliver society on the threshold of a new future. In addition to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that has thus far led India’s indigenous drone manufacturing for military purposes, many cutting-edge start-ups have now entered this space and are delivering drones for civilian purposes. 

Under the DCS, to obtain a certification for drones, indigenous manufacturers, assemblers and importers will supply various data and test results on drone weight, type of launch and recovery mechanism installed, speed, range, endurance, battery performance, the material used in construction. The application can be submitted on the single-window DigitalSky Platform that also hosts the Interactive Airspace Maps to be used for drone navigation and for reference to zone restrictions as laid out in the Drones Rules, 2021. 

Overseen by the Quality Control of India (QCI) and aided by a multi-stakeholder steering committee of government and industry, the drone certification process will now ensure minimum requirements for airworthiness—safety and security requirements for drones. This will encourage enthusiasts to undertake the development and manufacturing of the five varieties of drones in India—a boost to the phenomenally successful Make in India campaign. They will benefit from the PLI scheme of September 2021; the only scheme among 14 PLI schemes to offer a consistent 20 per cent incentive for the entirety of the three-year scheme validity. Since the PLI covers drone components like communication systems (radio, satellite), cameras, sensors, spraying systems, and navigation systems, among others, the scheme is also likely to have a positive rippling effect on allied sectors where such components find use. 

In a similar vein, the Ministry of Defence is vigorously promoting the indigenisation of India’s defence sector. To encourage domestic innovation and indigenous development of drone systems, in June 2021, the ministry announced a five year budgetary allocation of INR 498.8 crore ($ 67 million) for a scheme under Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX). The executive arm of the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO), iDEX is responsible for creating an ecosystem that fosters indigenous innovation and technology development in India’s defence and aerospace sectors. It engages with MSMEs, start-ups, innovators, academics, and R&D institutions to evaluate technologies for scalability and aids the armed forces in technological adoption.

The new DCS adds a leg to the already robust trifecta of the Drones Rules 2021, the PLI for drones and drone components and the DigitalSky Platform that have duly captured the national sentiment towards drones and the potential for innovation therein. Riding on these supportive policies, India will emerge as “the drone hub of the world by 2030.”

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