Drones are flying high in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu’s policymakers have made the right moves to ensure that India’s drone revolution takes off from the state. Karnataka is often regarded as India’s aerospace capital, but Tamil Nadu has a chance to fly ahead with drones. It has set up the Tamil Nadu UAV Corporation, plans to build a drone-focused research park, and the focus of its aerospace policy is drones.
Industry players and policymakers spoke to say the state has the academic foundation needed for R&D with the Centre for Aerospace Research at the Madras Institute of Technology and facilities at IIT Madras. The most well-funded among Indian drone startups is Garuda Aerospace, which hails from Chennai and is on the path to becoming the sector’s first unicorn. Experts say Chennai’s existing SaaS (software as a service) sector could also help power drones.
“Right from the beginning, there has been a focus on this area with the Centre for Aerospace Research producing drones with the financial assistance of the state government under the Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiative. The state government has also invested ₹ 20 crores in the Tamil Nadu UAV Corporation,” says industries secretary S Krishnan.
In another key move, the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Limited (TIDCO) is setting up UAV-focused research and testing centers. At a conference in Chennai recently, B Krishnamoorthy, additional secretary, and project director, TIDCO, said three major testing facilities – for drones, electronic warfare, and electronic optics – will be commissioned in the next six months in Tamil Nadu. The facility for UAVs will come up at Vallam Vadagal near Chennai.
Additionally, the state has a supply chain advantage. Its expertise in precision manufacturing, and experience of private firms in developing and manufacturing aircraft standard parts and engine components for global OEMs and HAL, make it the hub for sourcing drone components.
Industry executives said that the drone manufacturing sector sources 40%-45% of the components domestically, and almost 50% of that is from Tamil Nadu. This is one reason why Bengaluru’s headquartered drone maker Magic Myna is establishing an R&D and manufacturing facility at Coimbatore.
“We are looking at procuring at least 70% of the components required to manufacture drones indigenously. Coimbatore with an existing manufacturing and allied ecosystem, including a well-established MSME platform, is well placed to foster the development of drone manufacturing,” says Sunil S Nair, co-founder, of Magic Myna.
Manufacturing 30-plus types of drones, and expanding its facility in Chennai in partnership with TIDCO, Garuda Aerospace wants to lead India’s drone revolution. “Our ambition is to build a drone park like how the TIDEL Park is for the IT industry. We plan to do this across 5-6 acres in Chennai, with R&D centers and manufacturing footprint side by side,” says Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO, of Garuda Aerospace.
The startup has served more than 750 clients including TATA, Godrej, Adani, Reliance, Swiggy, and Flipkart. It also recently became the first in the sector to receive a double certification from DGCA for its indigenously designed Kisan drones.
As the use of drones by the government and industry grows, so does the demand for drone pilots.Tamil Nadu is also playing a proactive role in creating a pipeline for this. Four of around 30 DGCA-approved remote pilot training organizations (RPTO) are in Tamil Nadu, with Garuda Aerospace having trained 2,000 pilots in its first batch. The MIT campus of Anna University, which also holds a license, recently said it plans to start drone flying training centers across the state to cater to rising demand.
It’s just a matter of time before drone use is mainstream, Vanitha Venugopal, a chief business officer of Tamil Nadu UAV Corporation, said at a recent business summit. “Unlike smartphones that are a pull technology and easier to operate, drones are currently a push technology and the focus is on creating awareness,” she said.
“Businesses in the south are more progressive when it comes to the use of drones. TN’s agriculture and media sectors are one of the largest adopters,” says Garuda’s Jayaprakash
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