Karnataka’s New Aviation Policy Accelerates India’s Drone Industry Flight

By Girish Linganna

The Karnataka cabinet recently paved the way for its Aerospace and Defense Policy 2022-2027. The government hopes to attract more than Rs 45,000 crore in investment and place itself on the global aerospace and defense map. A host of policies and developments have transformed Karnataka into a prime location for aviation.

Eyes on the prize: what Karnataka considers to be in aerospace and defense
If the new policy indicates what the state government envisions, the dreams are indeed meaningful and global. Already, 25% of the country’s aerospace industry is in Karnataka, along with two-thirds of the manufacturing of defense planes and helicopters. The state contributes around 65% of India’s aerospace and defense exports.

The state is seeking to develop several centers for this plan; therefore, micro-enterprises outside Bangalore are granted subsidies of up to 35 percent. For those in Bangalore, the subsidy is 30%. Also, around INR 20-25 lakh can be attracted as an investment grant, subject to certain standards. Five hubs will be developed: Bengaluru, Belagavi, Mysuru, Tumakuru and Chamarajanagar.

The government’s holistic vision for shaping the future of aerospace is evident in its desire to train young people for the aerospace and defense sector through ten institutions identified specifically for this purpose. Two hundred candidates will be eligible to receive a stipend of INR 70,000 for training. The government can also extend specific skills building to schools.

Notably, Karnataka was the first state to have its own Aerospace and Defense Policy in 2013 which would materialize on January 31, 2023.

A nascent ecosystem for aviation and defense in Karnataka
Already, Karnataka is the top destination for new businesses in the sector. One of the market leaders in aircraft engine manufacturing, Pratt & Whitney, recently opened its India Capability Center in Bangalore. The complex will also soon house their Indian Engineering Center.

Another French avionics major, the Thales group, already has an engineering center in Bangalore where its flight management software (FMS) is being developed. Thales recently announced its intention to expand into India by creating its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre. Another French aeronautics group, Safran, will set up its largest MRO facility in India.

Apart from industry, Karnataka has hosted various laboratories of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). HAL’s research and manufacturing is based in Karnataka. DRDO has laboratories nationwide and operates specific aviation laboratories and centers in Karnataka. Cutting-edge research on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) under DRDO is also at the request of facilities provided by the State of Karnataka.

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Specifically for drones, there is a need for a strong electronics industry and prototyping services like 3D printing. Karnataka’s strong industrial presence makes it easy for every business to utilize various quality service providers to innovate, from FPGA and circuit design to 3D printing, machining and CNC. One can also get high quality sensors such as mountable thermal cameras etc.

Future Forward: Focus on drones
Drones and allied companies in India get a natural advantage when settling in Karnataka. India’s future drones, like Ghatak being developed in Karnataka itself, ensure that a credible ecosystem is in place.

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The biggest benefit a manufacturer will get from Karnataka’s compliance with drone regulations. The regulations have defined various parts of the country into green, yellow and red zones. Additionally, specific geographic areas may be government buildings or airports excluded from the flight zone. The red zone is a no-fly zone; however, permission may be sought from the Union Government. The yellow zone has various restrictions; it mainly allows small commercial drones. In the green zone, most restrictions are lifted. The green zone is ideal for anyone innovating in this sector. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) has publicly produced dynamic mapping on the Digital Sky platform.

Karnataka has several green areas in the city like the city of Bengaluru. Categorically, the electronic city of Bangalore is under the green zone, which allows the flight of a drone up to 500 KG without restrictions or permissions.

For context, cities like Mumbai or Gurugram (and the rest of the National Capital Region) have no green zones. The green areas of Mumbai and NCR are found on the outskirts of the city or in adjacent towns. It’s a grim setup compared to a green area in the heart of the city.

The state government of Karnataka has pooled all its resources to deliver a world-class aerospace and defense ecosystem. The policy and industry response shows zeal to establish a global aerospace and defense hub. As the industry grows in India and becomes part of the global supply chain, Karnataka will be the pioneer in Indian aviation history.

The author is an aerospace and defense analyst.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the position or official policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited.

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