Drones eye wider horizons as new utilities emerge

Though conglomerates like the Tatas, Ambanis, Adanis, and Mahindras have entered the drone market, startups have taken the lead. Last week, DroneAcharya Aerial Innovation’s IPO was oversubscribed 177 times, with subscriptions totalling 6,016 crore for an issue size of just 34 crore, highlighting the positive outlook on the sector.

Last 18 months have seen a flurry of activity, such as the Drone Rules, 2021, the airspace map, unmanned traffic management policy and drone import ban, the single-window DigitalSky Platform, a certification scheme, awareness drives, production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme, drone-purchase subsidies and large orders by government ministries, Amber Dubey, former joint secretary at the ministry of civil aviation, said.

“Sensing the high potential, large industrial houses have set up in-house drone entities or acquired leading drone startups. The first IPO in the drone sector in December was highly successful. 2023 may see more IPOs and merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. The platform is set. 2023 may see the impact of these policy and regulatory reforms on revenue growth and job creation on the ground,” he added.

Industry experts are confident that the use of drones will rise in the precision agriculture segment, infrastructure, healthcare, logistics, defence, disaster management, mining, media, and law enforcement.

“2021 was unlocking of the sector, 2022 was more about rising, from 20-25 startups to over 200 startups in the drone ecosystem revolving around multiple things. The utility of drones in every segment will amplify by at least 10 times in 2023. More and more companies will jump in. Drone delivery and some bit of activity are expected to happen in air taxis by the end of 2023. The first quarter will be very important for drone deliveries,” said Ankit Kumar, founder and chief executive of Skye Air Mobility.

The geopolitical climate has led nations to invest in drone warfare technology, creating opportunities for companies producing drone components and related products.

“There is a lot of push from the government to make as much as possible in India, in view of the tensions going on in our neighbouring countries. There is a huge push to build batteries, motors and propellers in India. There are a lot of contract manufacturers who are doing LED and mobile phones with precision manufacturing. They are also getting into drones. Our indigenous content is increasing by around 5% every year,” Nagendran Kandasamy, founder and chief executive, Throttle Aerospace, said.

India has an ambitious aim to become a global drone hub by 2030, but a lot needs to be done in areas related to deliveries by drone to increase its usage and manufacturing, drone certification, dependence on foreign suppliers, inadequate supply of finance and skilled manpower. The biggest problem remains the shortage of drone pilots.

As of January, there are 41 drone schools across the country, and more are on the anvil, Dubey said, adding that with increasing competition in 2023, the fee for drone training is likely to reduce significantly, and the number of drone pilots may grow manifold. “There will be a need for at least 200,000-250,000 drone pilots by 2024. We currently have 30-35 training institutions. At Garuda, we are partnering with a lot of institutions across the country to provide drone training, and we are also reducing expenses at the cost at which a particular person can be trained,” said Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO at Garuda Aerospace.

There has been a steep uptick in consumers, especially farmers, using drones as a service, and for that, the industry is hopeful of service-linked incentives from the centre or the states to boost the usage and manufacturing of drones.

“A lot of people are moving towards service…like farmers and infrastructure development companies don’t want to buy drones, they want to use drones as a service, so we believe service-linked incentive is also the need of the hour and budget should have certain incentives for drones as a service industry,” Jayaprakash said.

In addition to service-linked incentives, the industry also expects states to introduce drone policies along the lines of those for electric vehicle.Drones have already seen widespread use in e-commerce by companies such as Amazon in the US, but to fully utilize their potential in the logistics industry in India, it is necessary to accelerate the implementation of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations with appropriate regulations and frameworks, Kandasamy said.

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