aerial India drone company

What it’s like running a drone company in the world’s most populous country

What’s it like being a drone company in India right now? On one hand, largely supportive government policies have created a fertile ground for growth. Plus, the country’s diversity and size allows for a vast (and still somewhat untapped) market of drone applications.

But navigating the Indian drone market has its challenges. Competition is surprisingly fierce, with a fair amount of Indian drone companies already in operation — plus an uptick in foreign drone companies trying to get a slice of India’s drone market. Other challenges for Indian drone companies includes affordability, plus ever-evolving laws adding to the navigational challenges.

Is it a good time to run a drone company in India right now? Will the world’s biggest country in terms of population ever dominate as a drone powerhouse? Here’s what you need to know about the state of drones in India right now:

German-based analytics and consulting group Drone Industry Insights sought to more critically understand the challenges, opportunities and goals of India’s drone companies in the year ahead.

Using data from its 2023 Global Drone Market survey, DII shared some interesting stats around what it’s like for Indian drone companies right now:

Drones in India DII indian companies
Graphic courtesy of Drone Industry Insights. Click to enlarge.

What are India’s major drone companies?

Drone companies in India tend to fit in the medium-size landscape. In India, a plurality (33%) of drone companies have 51-200 employees.

That’s in contrast to China, which stands out for having an above-average amount of major drone companies like DJI. And, it’s as opposed to someplace like the DACH region, which includes Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. There, drone companies are startup oriented (only 8% of companies in the DACH region have 500 or more employees).

As far as what these Indian drone companies do, it’s fairly diverse. According to DII’s survey, here’s how Indian drone businesses break down:

  • Drone service providers: 21%
  • Drone training and education services: 21%
  • Software manufacturers: 18%
  • Hardware manufacturers: 12%

This is far from a complete list, but here are some of the biggest names in India’s drone space:

Garuda

Garuda Aerospace stands out as one of India’s top distributors. Garuda rose to prominence in light of a decision by the Indian government to ban imported drones.

To take advantage of that rule, Garuda partnered with other, major international drone companies as a distributor. That still enables it to sell products made by those companies to other clients within India. Garuda also sometimes functions as not just a distributor, but also as a company for R&D and manufacturing of those company’s products.

The payoff has been huge. DII tracks the largest drone companies. In its annual ranking of top drone service providers, Garuda jumped 24 spots from 2022’s list to break into the top 10 in 2023.

Kisan

India’s Kisan drone.

Garuda also makes a drone called the Kisan, which has had a major spotlight on it. The Kisan drone actually has strong government backing from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). First created in 2016, the Kisan drone can monitor crop and soil health. The drone officially launched in February 2022.

IdeaForge

IdeaForge is an India drone company with offices in Mumbai, New Delhi and Karnataka, India. Though, it’s also got a U.S. office in Austin, Texas.

IdeaForge builds drones primarily for mapping, security and surveillance.

Swiggy

Swiggy isn’t actually a drone company, but it’s increasingly tied to drones. Back in 2020, Swiggy — which is a food delivery service in India — said it would begin food deliveries via drone. It took a while to get off the ground. Perhaps COVID-19 had something to do with it. But by mid-2021, it had been conducting some small-scale drone deliveries. Most were just a small pilot project in the cities of Ropar and Etah, with just a few dozen flights per day.

It’s made some progress since then, largely thanks to a request for proposal (RFP) for other drone service providers to support its efforts. Swiggy said the response was overwhelming — with 345 responses from companies looking to participate in its pilot project.

Ultimately, Swiggy settled on four companies to parter with: Garuda Aerospace, Skyeair Mobility, ANRA Technologies + TechEagle Consortia; and Marut Dronetech.

Foreign drone companies capitalizing on India’s drone economy

Those names are based in India, but other big players in drones have found their way into India’s aerial landscape.

ANRA

ANRA, which builds airspace management software, has close ties to India. For example, last May it completed a project with the Technology Innovation Hub on Autonomous Navigation (TiHAN) at the India Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH) to better integrate its existing drone data systems, which include drone traffic management, airspace surveillance and data fusion.

ANRA powered the drone software used by Swiggy, called out above as India’s largest online food delivery service. Yes, Swiggy launched tests of drone delivery to customers in India.

Skydio

California-based drone maker Skydio in February 2024 announced a partnership with Aeroarc, which is an Indian drone maker. As part of the deal, Aeroarc will develop, manufacturer and deploy small drones, presumably based on Skydio technology.

Details are slim, but it looks to follow on the Garuda model in light of import bans. Where Indian drone companies can’t buy Skydio drones, they can buy Aeroarc drones, which are made through close collaboration with Skydio.

Zeitview

Though based in Santa Monica, California, Zeitview (the company formerly known as DroneBase) has seen India as a significant region. A big tie-in initiated back in 2021, when DroneBase acquired Indian drone company AirProbe.

AirProbe was an early winner in AI. The company uses drones to inspect solar energy systems, while integrating with AI-enabled analytics to analyze solar inspection data.

How India drone companies are focusing their business in 2024

DJI Phantom drone in India
A DJI Phantom drone flying over the palm jungle of Hampi, India.

India offers a range of drone applications, including agriculture, infrastructure inspection and disaster management. And there’s a range of opportunity.

For example, DII has suggested that India’s highly-concentrated population (1.4 billion) creates a need for construction and infrastructure projects (thus opening the door for mapping and surveying opportunities).

Leaning into agriculture

According to DII’s analysis, agriculture provides among the biggest opportunities for the Indian drone market. India’s agricultural sector comprises an estimated 15.4% to the Indian GDP. Meanwhile, an esimtated 47% of India’s labor force currently works in agriculture.

“Considering the high amount of labor force that goes into agriculture as well as the percentage of GDP that relies on agriculture, India is among the top locations where agricultural drones can have an immediate and vast impact, especially as urbanization rates climb and there are less people willing and [avail]able to work on the countryside,” according to an analysis by DII.

Agriculture in India is already a big industry, and agricultural also makes for a big component of the drone industry. In fact, according to the 2022 Drone Application Report also produced by DII, agriculture is considered the third-biggest drone application (9%), behind construction (12%) and energy (14%).

Drone applications within agriculture are huge. Drone operators could mount an NDVI camera to a drone to collect critical data around crop health. Drones with unique payloads can plant seeds, while spraying drones like the DJI Agras T20P can optimize fertilizer distribution.

In 2024, the worldwide agricultural drone market is worth $3.6 billion, according to a 2024 analysis from DII. But by 2030, it’s predicted to grow to $5.7 billion. 

India’s government has also specifically carved out rules designed to promote agricultural drone use in India. For example, the Drone Rules 2021, introduced in March 2021 by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), specifically allows drone usage in agricultural areas under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Scheme (PMFBY).

Navigating (and taking advantage of) government regulation

India banned imported drones — creating a unique challenge and opportunity for the business landscape. It’s a decidedly anti-free-trade move, something that likely wouldn’t fly in someplace like the U.S.

But rather than gripe at the lack of resources, Indian drone companies seem optimistic.

In fact, DII gave its survey responses an “optimism score” and found some interesting results. Not only is India’s 2023 optimism score of 7.8 higher than what it was in 2022 (7.), it’s significantly higher than the global average of just 6.6. According to DII, India has among the highest optimism scores of any country, period.

Most companies cited their optimism around Indian drone legislation. Besides the aforementioned import ban, India has simplified the process for obtaining permissions to fly drones. It’s also made moves to reduce no-fly drones and relaxed rules specifically or domestically manufactured drones.

India’s current approval system functions through the DigitalSky platform, an online portal for drone registration, airspace authorization, and pilot licensing.

“Although they may not be the best news for foreign companies and operators, they may nevertheless help the most populated country in the world deliver on its potential and turn the Indian drone market into another Asian powerhouse,” according to DII.

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