india drone policy: India aims to launch revamped DigitalSky platform by end of 2021


Bengaluru: India aims to launch its revamped DigitalSky platform by the end of this year, to enable automated registration and flight approvals—among other procedures—for drones. The move is in accordance with the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, that were passed in March this year.

DigitalSky, which was first unveiled in December 2018, is currently undergoing a revamp to become compliant with India’s new drone policy. For this, the civil aviation ministry has roped in Bengaluru-based IT services provider Happiest Minds Ltd., a senior government official told The Economic Times.

“The DigitalSky platform is now being aligned to the new forms and workflows specified in the new rules,” said Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA). “Any such digitisation programme with nationwide roll out involves inter-ministerial and centre-state collaboration, process redesign, multiple sign-offs, security audits, user testing, bug-fixing and final release.”

Dubey said that the ministry is targeting to roll out the completed platform before December 31, 2021, as building a platform to withstand the rigours of processing thousands of requests relating to drone flights requires a strong technical architecture, apart from integrations with various systems within the ministry as well as outside it.

In the absence of a fully functional platform, the civil aviation ministry has sought to use the route of conditional exemptions to the UAS Rules 2021 to keep the industry thrumming in the background. Until June 5, the ministry has granted 60 exemptions to various ministries, law enforcement agencies and also enterprises such as Vedanta, Adani and Tata Steel.

While these exemptions are based on specific use cases, the move has created demand for hundreds of drones in the country, including a single project by the Survey of India that will deploy over 300 drones for mapping land in villages in more detail than has ever been possible, officials have said.

One of the firms that has benefited from these exemptions is Garuda Aerospace, which has won orders from Adani, Vedanta, Goderj and NTPC, deploying over 120 drones across the country currently.

“We have won over 200 clients over the last six months, both government and industries, and have worked with over 40,000 farmers in the last eight months,” said Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO at Garuda Aerospace. “I can’t complain any more as these conditional exemptions that have come have led to a lot of orders for us.”

Jayaprakash added that the company is sitting on an order book of almost Rs 30 crore, and is expecting demand from industries and the agri sector to skyrocket in the coming months and years. He said the model for an aggregator in the drone sector that can connect drone operators and industries is much needed and will only grow once DigitalSky becomes fully functional.

While the conditional exemptions offered so far have boosted the business for some drone service providers, manufacturers of drones are still awaiting certifications under the new rules before being able to market their models more widely.

Pradeep Palelli, founder and CEO of drone maker Thanos Technologies, says the company is hoping to get 3-4 models of its drones that will service the agri and surveillance markets certified before the end of the current fiscal.

“We had done some work before the new rules came in and we are talking to DGCA and MoCA to get some of our drone models certified. Hopefully, within the next 1-2 months, we will be able to move on that,” said Palelli.

MoCA’s Dubey said that the certification process for drones has been outsourced to the Quality Council of India and that the process will get streamlined by July.

Data on the MoCA website shows that India has so far certified 22 models of drones in the micro, small and medium categories and has issued 41 Unique Identification Numbers (UIN) so far. It has also empanelled 16 drone pilot training schools and exempted 60 projects to use drones.



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