“India is one of the top countries for drone adoption, and with 5G being launched, we could be witnessing a major turning point. 5G has arrived at a time when the drone industry is growing at a rapid pace. With 5G, we will have better network connectivity, and staying connected will always unleash the power of the drone sector”, says Mr. Chirag Sharma, CEO and Founder, Drone Destination.
The drone industry is one of the industries that is rapidly growing in terms of skill development, training, and job creation. Across industry verticals like agriculture, logistics, mining, media, and others, India has been exceptionally quick to adopt drone technology. To learn more about drone training, the scope for drones in rural areas, career opportunities for the youth and how India is becoming a global drone destination, we conversed with Mr. Chirag Sharma, CEO and Founder, Drone Destination.
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation. You can watch the full video interview on our YouTube channel.
Q: Please tell us about your organization, Drone Destination.
A. Besides Drone Destination, we have another company called Hubblefly Technologies. Recently, Hubblefly became one of the first six companies to receive provisional approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to manufacture drones.
We became a manufacturer in 2019 and later got two of our drones certified:
- Micro category – between 250 gms to 2 kgs and
- Small category – 2 kgs to 25 kgs
The drone manufacturing companies are undergoing the QCI-type certification process. Our drones are also going through the type certification process. Drone Destination was intended to play a significant part in drone training, but more lately, we have also begun to look into drone services. As a result, both companies are the only ones that have authorised manufacturing facilities, DGCA-approved drone training facilities and on-site drone service teams. The idea is to promote ourselves as a provider of end-to-end solutions.
When training first began in our country, only flying schools were permitted to do so. At the time, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had a flying organisation by the name of Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA). IGRUA issued a request for drone partners to provide drone training across 6 cities with IGRUA. We partnered with them and launched India’s first drone school in Manesar. The drone destination has a 7-acre campus nearby, and we can currently manufacture 5000 drones in addition to providing training.
We gradually began to grow in places like Bangalore, Dharamshala, Gwalior, Coimbatore, and Madurai. We became the official first Remote Pilot Training Organization (RPTO) under the new drone rules. As Drone Destination we are also present in Manesar, Chandigarh, and we are opening up soon at IIT Patna, Bhopal, and some more locations soon.
We also collaborated with National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to set up 10 drone centres for training and other drone-related services. For our company, this means that by 2025, we want to have 150 to 200 locations that are qualified. Each of these locations will have drones for their purposes as well as qualified pilots who will subsequently carry out service initiatives in response to local needs. We are considering a whole end-to-end network, as consumers now do not have as much access to drones as end-users do.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has just begun to examine India and use India as a model base for the drone policy, with which we have advanced over the past three years. This is the type of advocating for widespread drone adoption while issuing airspace maps, green zones, and other measures. The Indian economy is being used as a test bed by the government for new policies, which are already coming to fruition.
Our country’s policy toward drones is a major driving force. Before today, we were probably quite regulated, but that term has now been freed.
Q: Currently, drone training is quite restricted and expensive. How can we make drone pilot training affordable and also grow and scale?
A. The DGCA-approved drone pilot training is one-on-one training. Our DGCA-certified teacher is required to be present directly next to the trainee. We have a “buddy box” system in our training. Due to the constant hand-off of the remote control, the trainer has the master control and the trainee has the slave control. We must be careful as the drone they are handling is worth between 5-6 lakhs, to begin with.
Unlike many skilling programmes which are one-to-many, drone pilot training is always one-to-one, therefore, it is difficult to scale. So, the reason it is expensive today is due to the cost of the equipment as well as the cost of running the operation, which is very high.
However, there will be new courses that will be relevant to the drone industry, not only pilot training courses but also technical courses, repair and maintenance courses, etc.
The three broad segments in drones:
- Operator: The operator could be a pilot, co-pilot, or instructor who has to go into the field and has to be a DGCA certified
- Hardware: Running workshops for drone maintenance and repair
- Software: Running post-processing lab-based courses
Currently, with SVAMITVA scheme being implemented, our teams are currently working on large-scale mapping for the digitization of land records in Gujarat, UP, and Andhra Pradesh. We provide survey mapping expert courses, followed by agriculture courses, to help the trainees become industry-ready.
On November 22nd, Drone Destination and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) hope to introduce skill loans for the trainees. Therefore, even if the cost of the training may be high, it may still be affordable if the students can divide it into EMIs. The trainee will not have to worry about expensive upfront training costs. Therefore, that aspect of pilot training will be paid for through skill loans.
At Drone Destination, we qualify our drones, followed by data acquisition and processing. Since we are handling everything in-house, we have built up the capacity to teach the youth the skills.
Q: Who is the right candidate to take up training in drone technology and data in the drone industry?
A. The geospatial industry is surrounded by a lot of data. We are talking about large-scale survey mapping data, auto-corrected images, and digital elevation models. Some can comprehend the geographical aspect of it. Even in the world of data, there is not a single scale that applies to all applications; each application has its own set of eligibility criteria. For example, if a candidate is a GIS (Geo Information System) expert, with a background in geospatial imagery, he/she will be able to comprehend the ideas and be able to pick up the software and the information much more quickly.
Similarly to this, if a person is studying agricultural data and has a degree in agricultural sciences, they would be able to comprehend the report given in an NDBI index or NDRE index and be familiar with the technical jargon of these words. The software will perform specific tasks, but the candidate must have some background knowledge to understand what the software is telling you. As a result, the candidates will typically be experts in their particular field. Therefore, someone who has some exposure to technology would be useful because they already have a skill set.
Q: How can drones promote employment and entrepreneurship in rural areas? Is there a possibility of renting drones for specific purposes?
A. Our company manufactures seven types of drones for various uses. Keeping drones that are in line with the requirements of a specific purpose and renting them out is another one of our specialities. The main difference is that we rent out drones along with our qualified pilot who is familiar with flying the specific drone being used, as opposed to renting drones separately.
A drone is now not quite a do-it-yourself situation, in contrast to a cell phone. Our goal is to have specialists who have been trained on that particular drone so that the end user is just in charge of the issues they need assistance with and the pilot handles everything else.
As this technology enters the countryside, it will be able to pay more to the youths in rural areas. It will address the issue of migration and most drone companies would also be eager to establish centres of excellence there.
The majority of drone work will take place in tier 2 and tier 3 cities and rural areas. The technology will then begin to dramatically reveal its full potential. They will not need to return to cities because they can earn more money while remaining in their local communities, upskill themselves, and still be regarded as tech resources. If we look at it from the perspective of entrepreneurship, anyone could start a custom hiring centre that keeps agricultural equipment. Large farm owners, their second and third-generation would be interested to invest in centres by maintaining drones and other equipment and hiring operators. So, it’s a great opportunity for both entrepreneurship and employment.
Given how swiftly we are adopting, India will produce the drone talent that will not be available anyplace else. An individual will have numerous employment alternatives globally.
Q: How is the drone training imparted to the trainees?
A. The theory classes are being delivered online since the beginning of our DGCA-certified training. The reason is that it has a plethora of lectures. We prefer to retain instructors who are subject matter experts in those lectures or topics to present and online learning has made easier because it would be difficult to arrange everyone together in a physical setting. The theory component is always online for a company like ours because we bring in people from all over India. This also holds for other courses, such as application-based courses, which always run on a hybrid module. Only during flying training, which is a required component like flight simulators, or application-based training, the trainee has to be there on the field to complete the training. Flying assessments will be physical and theoretical ones may be completed online.
Q: What is your message to the are youth of India?
A. Any drone-related skill will be on a global scale. India is taking a significant lead in the use of drones. We have pilots certified currently who are employed in South Africa and Germany, where our certification is recognized. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that we are working towards sustainable technology and that we have experienced multiple disruptions since the industrial revolution, including the arrival of computers, the internet, mobile phones, and now drones.
We are considering focusing on schools and where someone might want to start young. Numerous job and career options are available. Drones are a lucrative career path to pursue because they are a technology that will lower costs and boost productivity, making them necessary everywhere. In terms of the youth population, India is the world’s youngest youth capital. As a result, the entire capital must be deployed everywhere, and the applications are so varied that they will allow youth to choose their path with adequate flexibility.