Ban on foreign drones, bad for film-making


Drone import restrictions aimed to aid the local economy, has reduced the profits of drone service providers.

If you want to a drone camera to record the latest wedding in your family, make sure you have wedding lot of money. Import of foreign drones in India is banned and the cost of purchasing Indian drones is forbidding.

India’s drone import ban was intended to encourage the country’s drone sector, but film makers and photographers say no cinematography-grade drones are currently produced in India. Also, the cost of purchasing Indian drones is too high.

Hemnath, from a photography firm, said that banning drone imports has shocked photographers because they don’t have alternate high quality Indian drones. Also, Indian drones are unrepeatable. He said, “We are bound to buy new drones because demand for drone cinematography is increasing rapidly. Using Indian drones will severely affect our margins in business because domestic drones are 10 times costlier.”

Drones made in India are more expensive than those made by Chinese  companies like DJI.  When film-making drones developed in China cost at Rs. 60,000, drones with similar features, made in India, cost over Rs. 10 lakh.

With the ban on imports and absence of good alternatives, a grey market for drones may develop in the country. “Because there are no Indian-made alternatives, most drone owners must rely on the grey market or purchase drones from other countries like Dubai. Drone buyers remove the packaging of devices, so they don’t have to pay import duty,” said Hemanth.

Apart from costs, photographers prefer imported drones for better quality. Avishkar, a drone photographer said, “I have used every type of drone, but the Chinese drone company DJI provides the best video quality and stabilization. Once we have seen the good output, we cannot compromise on video quality.”

Drone import restrictions apply to any drones that are not used for research and development, defense, or security; however approval to these laws is still pending. This includes drones used by cinematographers, travel photographers, bloggers, wedding and event planners, and others.    

Ashwath Salunke, owner of Fly India, who customizes drones, said “Drone users are not flying drones as their hobby. They are professionals, travel bloggers and engineering students (for project purpose) who require drones for professional purposes. The small flying device is their asset.”

Salunke said that imported drones are becoming severely scarce and hence they are becoming more expensive. The price has doubled in some cases as a result of the import ban. He added that, if drone companies and startups rely on self-assembling machines, the cost of individual components as well as assembly expenses will soar.

The drone ban affects not just users, but also service providers. Aerial Drone Service’s Rajat Sharma said that, “When we teach people how to fly drones, the risk of damage are extremely high.” He added that with the new law, getting these drones serviced quickly may become challenging for suppliers. This may increase the pressure on their inventory. One thing will have an impact on the other, and drone users may have complications as a result.

Rather than prohibiting the entry of foreign-made drones, the government should have better regulated the industry and profited from it, Sharma added.

Drone services have been in high demand throughout the pandemic, particularly for automated and contactless deliveries of food, drugs, and meals. In addition, drones are widely used in the country for photography and videography in weddings and celebrations.

While Indian firms have made progress in building drones for defense and commercial application in agriculture, mining, and delivery Drone Federation of India Director Smit Shah said that drones for aerial cinematography are yet to be developed.

“Indian companies will need to step up in aerial cinematography, either through extensive research and development, and subsequent manufacturing, or by forming technology-transfer partnerships with foreign players, such as DJI, and attempting to set up a manufacturing unit in India,” said Shah, whose organisation represents over 2,000 drone pilots and 80 manufacturers.

Last year, the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a trust established by the Department of Commerce, forecasted that India’s drone industry would generate a total turnover of $1.63 billion to $2.04 billion by 2026, up from $10.88 million in 2021.