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India bans drone imports to help local manufacturers take off

Amid much droning on about self-sufficiency, components will still be able to cross the border

India wants to promote locally-made drones, so has banned almost all imports of the aircraft, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced on Wednesday.

A revised list [PDF] of banned imports includes drones "completely built up," "completely knocked down," and "semi knocked down."

The ban doesn't apply to drone components, nor to drones used for research, development, defence, and security purposes – provided the Directorate General of Foreign Trade approves the imports.

That leaves open the possibility that Indian drone companies could add value by creating original designs using imported components. Such imports could make it easier for domestic drone companies to produce competitive machines, and for the Ministry to realize its vision of India as a manufacturing and operations drone hub by 2030.

India sees drones as a big part of its future – in roles including delivery, helping farmers to manage their land or spray crops, or using aerial photography and monitoring tools for diverse applications. To capitalize on the impending boom in a cost-efficient way, and in line with India's Aatmanirbhar Bharat self-sufficiency drive, the Ministry is investing in the industry now.

Indian drone-makers are currently developing the nation's first heavy lift drones – machines capable of carrying up to 150kg of cargo up to 150km. Many of India's roads are infamously underdeveloped, so a cargo drone could slash delivery times, making e-commerce more mainstream and more accessible to rural areas.

Last August, the Ministry relaxed requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles – including reducing fees and dropping the need for a security clearance to have a drone licence. It then approved an incentive scheme for drones and components with an overall budget of ₨1.2 billion ($16.3M) over three years.

The nation has also built free drone airspace maps and in 2021 published drone rules that are "based on a premise of trust, self-certification and non-intrusive monitoring." ®

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