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Last-mile delivery – the most challenging aspect of the supply chain – accounts for more than 50% of all shipping costs. To address the inefficiencies in last-mile delivery, startups in India are turning their attention to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones. In the near future, your groceries, medicines and even your pizza could be delivered by a drone.
Many companies have already started testing drone deliveries, including the likes of Amazon. Last year, Swiggy partnered with Garuda Aerospace to use drones to deliver groceries in Bengaluru and the Delhi-NCR region. In December, digital health platform 1mg started a pilot project to deliver medicines and diagnostic samples in Dehradun. Drones were also used to deliver vaccines in Arunachal Pradesh.
Drones are already being used extensively in multiple industries but not everyone can fly a drone. One must hold a licence to be able to fly a drone for commercial purposes.
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In December 2022, Anurag Thakur, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said that India will require at least 100,000 drone pilots by 2024. The recent development in this space has opened the doors on a new career opportunity – drone pilots.
So, how do you become a drone pilot in India?
To fly a commercial-purpose drone of any size – small, micro, medium, large or heavy – one needs a pilot licence. The very first step to becoming a drone pilot involves training and getting a drone pilot licence from a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) authorised institute in India.
The training modules and methods are prescribed by DGCA, and the licences are provided online. However, the actual training and examinations are carried out by DGCA-authorised drone schools. The pilots are trained on basic Radio Telephony (RT) techniques, flight planning and ATC procedures and regulations specific to the area of operations, among other things.
Currently, there are 41 DGCA-authorised Remote Pilot Training Organisations (RPTOs) located in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Assam.
To enlist, one does not need to have a drone. In fact, everything including the training kit is provided by the respective schools.
Eligibility and fees
To qualify for a programme, one must be 18 years or above and below 65 years. In addition, they should have a minimum qualification of Class 10. Further, the candidate will also have to undergo a medical examination prescribed by the DGCA and a background check by the government agency concerned.
The fees depend on the school you choose to enlist in and could vary between INR 30,000 and INR 1,00,000. The duration of the course also depends on the type of drone you are being trained on; however, most courses can be completed within two to three months.
What about the demand?
Thakur’s statement that India will need 1,00,000 drone pilots by 2024 speaks volumes about the growing demand for drone pilots in India. “With two-three months of training, a drone pilot can earn a monthly salary of around INR 30,000,” India’s aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, said.
Real estate, agriculture, construction, filmmaking, and insurance are some of the sectors that use drones extensively. The government of India, too, in the past few years, has promoted the sector aggressively and plans to make India a hub for drone technology. In a major push to the technology, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharam announced the Drone Shakti scheme in early 2022 to promote the use and application of ‘drones as a service’ in the country.
Demand for drone pilots in India has already increased significantly in the past two years, according to Senthil Kumar, director of the Centre for Aerospace Research (CASR) department under the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT).
Further, the drone training and education service market was valued at USD 12 million in 2022 and is forecasted to reach USD 349 million in 2030, according to Statista. Currently, there are only 2,179 registered drone pilots in the country, according to DigitalSky, a one-stop portal for all drone-related activities launched by DGCA.
The drone market in India
The drone market in India is forecasted to grow significantly in the coming years. Scindia, last year, said that India’s drone sector will achieve a turnover of INR 12,000-15,000 crore by 2026, from INR 80 crore. Earlier this year, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade decided to ban the import of foreign drones to boost local manufacturing.
According to an EY-FICCI report titled, ‘Making India the drone hub of the world’, the drone and its components industry can significantly strengthen India’s manufacturing potential to USD 23 billion approximately by 2030. “Making India a drone manufacturing power would contribute to the country’s target of a US$ 5 trillion economy with a larger focus on the Make in India opportunity, and once delivered, its success will contribute to national prosperity across multiple sectors,” Ankit Mehta, co-chair of the FICCI Committee on drones, said.
Further, the number of authorised drone schools in the country will also increase significantly in 2023. Kumar revealed that around 50 centres to train drone pilots would be set up in Tamil Nadu.
Drones schools are also expected to come up in other states in the country. Last year, the Goan government made its intention known to establish a drone school in the state.