India bans the import of foreign drones

In a move that I personally think is a huge mistake, the Indian Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) announced that it’s effectively game over for DJI and others in India.

The order banning foreign drones came into place on the 9th of February 2022. Don’t take your drone on holiday with you now! It also puts thousands of casual Indian drone users in peril as their DJI craft have effectively become illegal.

No doubt there has been intensive lobbying from Indian manufacturers to make this a reality, only caring about the here and now and not the bigger picture.

There is a carve-out that will be abused relentlessly.

Import policy for drones in CBU (Completely Built-Up) /CKD (Completely Knocked Down)/SKD (Semi Knocked Down ) form… is prohibited with exceptions provided for R&D, defence and security purposes. If you are an R&D body, or a government-certified institution, or a drone manufacturing company, etc., you can import up to five drones at maximum for prototyping, testing, technology transfer with allied countries. Such imports by authorised institutions may be allowed after due approvals from DGFT and the permissions from line ministries

It will work if local companies can match international prices, quality and reliability.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech called UAS a sunrise sector. She also spoke about the facilitation of ‘Drone Shakti’ through varied applications, Drone-As-A-Service (DrAAS), and ‘Kisan Drones’ for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, spraying of insecticides, and nutrients.

Perhaps her ear has been bent by too much VC BS. India makes great platforms but is at best a decade behind the curve.

Here’s my bet, India will end up making great rovers and autonomous boats as the friction required for development will be much less.

Let’s hope I am completely wrong, good luck Indian drone operators.