On Wednesday, February 9, the government announced new rules regarding drones in the country. The import of drones has been banned in India, effectively preventing Chinese companies like SZ DJI Technology Co from making the most of an emerging market like India.
The new rules, however, allow the import of drone components without any authorization, as indicated by the General Directorate of Foreign Trade (DGFT) in its decree.
“The policy of importing drones in CBU (Completely Built-Up)/CKD (Completely Knocked Down)/SKD (Semi Knocked Down) form…is prohibited with exceptions provided for R&D, defense and security,” the DGFT said.
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All drones that are not part of research and development (R&D), defense and security fall under these new rules, but these will still need the necessary authorizations, which includes drones that filmmakers , travel photographers, bloggers, wedding and event planners, etc., use for their work.
The official order to ban the import of drones comes days after the government released the drone certification scheme to stipulate minimum safety and quality requirements that will help boost drone manufacturing in the country.
The notification of the certification program was announced on January 25 and aims to help “simpler, faster and more transparent type certification of drones”.
“If you are an R&D organization, or a government-certified institution, or a drone manufacturing company, etc., you can import up to a maximum of five drones for prototyping, testing, technology transfer with from allied countries. Such imports by authorized institutions can be authorized after due approvals from the DGFT and authorizations from the supervisory ministries,” explained Chirag Sharma, CEO and Founder of Drone Destination.
Sharma added that since the government wants to balance actions and not stop the current use of drones, the import of components has been allowed. This is also because several of the components of the drone are not yet made in India.
This follows government mandates issued in August last year which published liberalized drone rules, a drone airspace map and also extended the PLI (production-linked incentive) program to manufacturing. of drones.
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The one-stop-shop DigitalSky platform was also introduced last year so drone owners can easily register their devices.
These relaxed rules made it easier to acquire drone licenses and also allowed heavier payloads so the devices could be used as unmanned flying vehicles and contactless delivery systems.
The need for services like these has peaked during the pandemic, especially for automated, contactless deliveries of groceries, medicine, and meals. Apart from these “essential” needs, drones are widely used in the country for photography and videography in the media industries, weddings and events.
The main ideas behind banning drone imports are twofold. Of course, security is one of the concerns the government is trying to address, the other, the main one, is to boost local players in the drone space. This joins the Drone Shakti and Kisan Drones initiatives announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during Budget 2022.
On the one hand, the ban on drone imports seems to be rather drastic and the short-term effects should affect all industries and consumers currently using drones, but everyone seems to be aiming for long-term gains. And if it doesn’t go as planned, there’s always the gray market.
“For the drone ecosystem to flourish and for new innovative use cases to emerge, access to high-quality, cost-effective drone hardware is essential. Like 90% of drones used in India are imported, it will be curious to see how the industry adapts and copes with this development which could temporarily at least derail some well-laid plans.It would have been welcome if the government had offered incentives to the industry to switch besides that,” said Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, CEO and co-founder of Skylark Drones.
Read also : Budget 2022: the drone industry gets a big boost
“We have the talent and manpower to make drones an independent and self-sustaining industry, but the current ban will disrupt the ecosystem for some time. However, it will also play a vital role in realizing the government’s vision of making India a global drone hub,” Ramaswamy added.
An important thing highlighted by Ramaswamy is that policymakers also need to consider a regulatory mechanism that will foster and promote the use of Indian-made software for drones.
Chirag Sharma of Drone Destination, agreeing with this point, said the end goal is to manufacture the components, assemble the device in-house and also create the proprietary software that can be used on it.
“If a drone has 100 parts, the actors who manufacture in India have been able to achieve around 60-70% indigenization, 30-40% always comes from outside,” he explained, adding that over the course of the next few years, this should change once local manufacturing resumes.
Talking about how this current ban will affect drone users such as cinematographers, wedding planners, etc., Sharma said the Civil Aviation Ministry mandate issued last year foresees the need for all drone owners to declare their devices online at DigitalSky. Currently, the Indian government has a record of only 25,000 to 30,000 drones, most of which are drones used for more casual purposes like videography, photography, etc.
“In the last quarter of 2021, the government granted a one-time amnesty program to all drone owners with DANs or Drone Recognition Numbers with an option to convert them to UINs or Unique Identification Numbers, a kind of like the RC or a license plate on a drone. All drones operating in the country should have a UIN,” Sharma said.
However, with most photographers and videographers buying their drones on the gray market, they don’t have a DAN, and therefore no UIN either. With the new rules, all of these drones have now become illegal.
Drone owners had nearly 18 months to register and legalize their drones, if they haven’t done so yet, it’s a mistake on their part, Sharma pointed out. “A lot of people didn’t declare their drones out of fear, but the government gave them time and chances,” he said.
The standard argument for most of these drone owners for buying stuff on the gray market or overseas is that there is no made in India alternative at the moment, but that should change over time. coming years and the government’s latest decision is the first. push towards it. While the new Indian-made drones could be more expensive than what companies like DJI are offering, Sharma thinks users will be willing to pay.
Additionally, the fact that drones from companies like DJI may not be readily available now, nor are they legal to use, will spur Indian players to grow faster and at scale. to meet the requirements because there is a market. waiting for.
For now, however, Sharma doesn’t see the new rules really affecting drone owners who are already on the wrong side of compliance rules. “These guys bought the drones on the gray market, they used them without declaring them, and they will continue to do so. The people who run these gray markets will also continue to help buyers like these, but over time , once the Indian alternatives come, it should stop,” he said.
Cinematographer Mahadev Thakur is someone who has been using drones for a while now for his shoots, and he too sees the move as a positive for Indian gamers. “It will give Indian companies the incentive they need to start manufacturing drones in-house, which is great. Currently work on this front seems to be rather slow, but once the new rules come into effect, the requirements will increase and that should help accelerated development,” Thakur said.
When it comes to his own work, Thakur doesn’t see much disruption because the vendors he rents equipment from are all stocked. However, he foresees a problem and an obstacle in training and R&D in his field.
“When we train other people to use drones and also use them for reconnaissance, the risk of wear and tear is very high. And with the new rules, having these drones easily repaired could become difficult for suppliers, which which will put pressure on the stock they have. . One thing will affect the other and we might see problems here,” Thakur explained.
He stressed, however, that as much of the equipment still comes from gray markets, it should continue as is. Unless India’s drone industry takes this opportunity to roll up its socks and get to work.