Lucrative opportunities in India’s commercial drone industry
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, have emerged as a highly promising technology with wide-ranging applications across various industries. Numerous Indian businesses have recognized that drones offer a multitude of commercial uses that extend beyond photography, surveillance, and video capture.
With the continuous progression of technology and ongoing research, it is anticipated that the industry’s annual sales turnover will escalate from Rs 60 crore in 2020-21 to surpass Rs 900 crore by the fiscal year 2023-24.
Image Credit: Pixabay
The drone industry in India is emerging as a promising sector with the capacity to greatly influence various fields, including defence, surveillance, internal security, disaster management, agriculture, healthcare, geo-spatial mapping, mining, infrastructure, as well as aerial photography and cinematography, among numerous other domains.
The Indian government has been actively fostering the manufacturing of drones and drone components through a range of policies and initiatives, including the Production-linked Incentive (PLI) program. This strategic endeavour aims to transform India into a worldwide hub for drones by the year 2030.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation expects that over the next three years, the drones as well as drone components manufacturing industry may witness an investment of over Rs 5,000 crore and the annual sales turnover of the industry may grow from Rs 60 crore in 2020-21 to over Rs 900 crore in FY 2023-24 which will in return generate over 10,000 direct jobs.
Moreover, it is expected that the drone services industry which includes operations, logistics, data processing, traffic management etc. will grow to over Rs 30,000 crore during this period, employing over five lakh people.
Commercial uses of drones
As the name suggests, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones are robotic aircraft that do not require a human pilot. Although the drone industry in India is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow and evolve exponentially over the next few years.
Apart from the military, drones are being used on a commercial basis such as surveillance, crop protection, construction project surveying, filmmaking, healthcare, e-commerce delivery etc. Since the usage of drones in place of traditional methods can result in considerable cost savings and mass adoption, several start-ups and companies are currently involved in developing and identifying new applications and use cases for drones, which would further drive the drone industry.
Several companies have identified the applications of drones in business, some of which are:
- Agriculture: Drones can be used by farmers to track the health of crops, map the area as well as study the irrigation systems which could help farmers save a lot of overhead costs and time.
- Environmental conservation and monitoring: Drone technology can be used to monitor and conserve wildlife by keeping a tab on animal populations, habitat management, migration tracking, flood assessment etc.
- Media coverage: Drones have been used significantly to capture aerial shots of venues, events etc. Local journalists and small–scale media houses can afford a drone to provide live aerial shots.
- Search and rescue operations: At the time of disasters and natural calamities, drones have proved to be successful in locating people trapped in floods. With infrared sensors, drones can detect people in remote areas using heat maps.
- Delivery for e-commerce and health: The fastest-growing and most popular application of drones is delivery. The outbreak of Covid-19 highlighted the importance of drones in India and the need to introduce drone-friendly policies.
The expanding range of drone applications is not just boosting market growth but also driving the overall drone ecosystem, encompassing drone maintenance, repair and overhaul services, drone platform services, and drone training and education. Moreover, due to the potentially prohibitive cost of enterprise-level drones, many companies are choosing to utilize drones as a service. This is expected to contribute to the expansion of the Drones-as-a-Service sector, which frequently assists enterprises in cost management.
Bodhisattwa Sanghapriya, Founder and CEO at IG Drones spoke to IBT stating:
“India’s drone industry has yet to tap into its full potential, but with supportive government policies and rising demand across sectors, it is poised for substantial growth over the next two years, reaching an estimated $2 billion. With the incorporation of advanced technology and widespread adoption, India is set to emerge as a dominant player in the drone industry, potentially driving the manufacturing potential of drones and their components to approximately $23 billion by 2030.”
Investments and policies
As per data from Tracxn Technologies, in FY2022-23, drone start-ups attracted US$ 49.7 million in investments across 20 rounds, compared to US$ 25 million received in FY2021-22 across 23 rounds and US$ 11.2 million in FY2020-21 across 20 rounds. This means that the segment has registered 300% of growth in the last three fiscals.
Garuda Aerospace, a multi-utility drone manufacturer raised US$ 22 million in the Series A round, out of which US$ 17 million was raised in February 2023. Moreover, the drone start-up, ideaForge, supported by Qualcomm, has submitted its Draft Red Herring Prospectus (DRHP) to the market regulator SEBI for an initial public offering (IPO). The IPO includes a new share issue valued at Rs 300 crore and an offer to sell 4,869,712 equity shares.
Investments in Drone start-ups (2020-2023)
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has actively collaborated with multiple Union Ministries and State/Union Territory Governments throughout the nation to advance drone applications. These collaborative efforts have led to various initiatives aimed at fostering the extensive adoption of drones in sectors such as commercial logistics, agriculture, mining, large-scale mapping, and industrial inspection.
The government is leveraging the services of drone service providers for a wide range of activities, including vaccine delivery, inspecting oil pipelines and power transmission lines, conducting anti-locust operations, agricultural spraying, surveying mines, and mapping land under the SWAMITVA scheme to issue digital property cards. Furthermore, the establishment of Drone Training Schools in various states holds the potential to significantly contribute to the promotion and development of drone applications.
With the implementation of liberalized drone regulations, the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, and a progressive drone import policy, it is anticipated that the annual sales turnover of the Indian drone manufacturing industry could experience substantial growth. This growth trajectory suggests that the industry’s annual sales turnover may increase from approximately INR 60 crore in 2020-21 to around INR 900 crore by 2024-25.
Moreover, while introducing the Budget 2023, the Finance Minister said that lakhs of youngsters will be trained in the next three years in subjects such as drones, artificial intelligence, coding and other soft skills under the Pradhan Mantri Kausal Vikas Yojana 4.0 (PMKVY), a scheme of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) implemented by National Skill Development Corporation.
The commercial drone industry in India has gained significant momentum in recent years, driven by favourable regulations, diverse applications, and government support. While challenges persist, the industry’s growth trajectory suggests a promising future as drones become increasingly integral to various sectors of the Indian economy