You are reading it here first: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, India’s civil aviation regulator, has allowed central and state government bodies, and even private drone manufacturers to become drone pilot training schools. This is a significant shift, because so far, only a handful of Flight Training Organisations (FTOs) were eligible to become drone pilot training schools. This decision widens the scope of who can apply to become a drone pilot training school. The regulator is expected to announce this on October 19.
The regulator, in June, had floated a draft circular to make this change possible, and the final circular, dated October 14, was approved with no changes to the draft proposal. The entities that are eligible to register themselves as drone training schools are:
- Central or state government or their undertaking or autonomous Bodies,
- Government-approved universities,
- DGCA approved FTOs
- Remotely Piloted Aircraft (drone) manufacturers
It is unclear whether government approved universities mean government universities, or even private universities that the government has approved.
Entities willing to be remote pilot training organisations (RPTOs) will first have to receive a no-objection certificate from the DGCA. To apply for an NOC, an applicant will have to submit evidence of having funds of at least Rs 10 lakh in the form of paid-up capital, a project report containing details of the proposed set-up including a 3 year business plan, a proposed financial structure, ownership pattern, time frame for operationalisation of the project, drone types to be used and their suitability for flying training, human resource, maintenance support, and other such information.
Drone training schools are an important component in the process of a pilot getting a license to fly drones. Current regulations require a pilot to complete a minimum of 35 hours of a training program spread over five days. This program includes classroom sessions, simulator sessions, and practical training among other things.
So far, DGCA has approved fourteen drone training schools, out of which three — Gati (Odisha), Telangana State Aviation Academy, and Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (UP) — are FTOs owned by state governments.
Drone operators complain of steep training costs and exclusion
On August 13, MediaNama had reported how several drone pilots are fearing steep costs of training, and potential exclusion from the industry for not being able to pay a hefty sum. The first school to get DGCA approval, the Bombay Flying Club for instance, was mulling charging ₹86,000 for its training course, which, as at least five drone pilots told MediaNama, is very expensive.
Drone pilots in India need a license to operate, which costs ₹25,000 and is valid for 5 years. In the current pricing regime, the actual cost of getting a license adds up to over ₹1,00,000 which, as one pilot we spoke to said, was “unfathomable”.