Two years after drone usage was legalised in the country, India finally has 15 pilots that have official certification to fly drones from a school approved by DGCA, India’s civil aviation regulator. The pilots were trained and certified by Redbird Flight Training Academy, which had received DGCA’s approval to offer the training in September this year. The academy claimed that training was offered free of cost. Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry, and incharge of the drones division, distributed the certificates to the approved pilots at the Delhi Flying Club on November 6.
Why this matters: Drone pilots in India need a license to operate. To obtain this license, it is mandatory for them to complete a minimum of a 35-hour training program spread over five days, which includes classroom sessions, simulator training and practical training. However, here’s the thing: There are hundreds of civilian drone pilots in the country, but apart from these fifteen pilots, nobody else is officially certified to fly a drone.
As has been well documented, drones have been flying across Indian skies, and in fact, the most frequent user of drones in India, so far, has been the government itself — meaning that every time it has deployed a drone to surveil people, it has allowed people who actually aren’t officially to fly a drone to do so.
To be sure, even these fifteen pilots have only received their certification from a DGCA-approved drone training school — this does not mean they are drone pilot license holders as of now. The training certificate is only one of the requirements for obtaining a drone pilot license — Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) — apart from getting security clearances from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, among other documents.
Dubey urged the pilots to maintain quality standards given that these pilots would in turn be teaching a number of other students who would sign up for the drone trainings schools that have so far been approved. “We will become the drone capital of the world. The government is sure and the industry is sure, and we all have to work together to make it happen”, Dubey said.
The training process
“I have already been working in the security and surveillance sector, and the industry now demands to learn these kind of things [flying drones for surveillance],” Rahul Ambegaokar, one of the fifteen pilots to get certified, told MediaNama at the sidelines of the event. Ambegaonkar said he has been involved with drones for over the last three years. Of the fifteen pilots to be certified, five are women, he told us.
These pilots underwent a five day training program starting from October 23, and the training was offered free of cost, we were told. We had earlier reported that a number of drones pilots were concerned that drone training schools would overcharge for offering certificates. Redbird’s free training for the first 15 certifications could be useful for the company from a marketing perspective, it is unlikely that it would continue offering the course free-of-cost going forward.
The training itself involved a day of simulator training, and around three and a half hours of actual drone flying. The drone used for training was called RAYS P1, which was manufactured by Mumbai-based RAYS Aviation Technologies. Representatives from the Redbird training school told MediaNama that they will soon select twenty CPL (commercial pilot license) holders — which allows a person to fly a commercial aircraft — from the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Academy in Uttar Pradesh to train them as drone instructors.
MediaNama has prepared an exhaustive guide to the drone industry in India, encompassing regulations, use cases, concerns around privacy and surveillance, and the way forward for the industry. The guide is available here.