Thursday, August 13, 2020

As more drone training schools join the fray, drone operators fear steep costs of training, and exclusion

Drone training schools in India were a long time coming. But, as more such schools receive DGCA’s approval — 9 at the time of publishing — and join the fray, drone pilots fear steep costs of training. They also fear that the steep training costs could lead to exclusion of prospective drone operators who come from underprivileged backgrounds. The government, for now, is hoping that market forces decide the pricing of these courses going forward but told MediaNama that it may step in, if it senses excessive fee-charging (more on that below).

The first school to get DGCA approval, the Bombay Flying Club for instance, is mulling to charge Rs 86,000 for its training course, which, as at least five drone pilots told MediaNama, is very expensive. Though a number of the other approved drone training schools are yet to even have coursework ready, pilots fear that BFC’s fees could become the benchmark for the other schools. Incidentally, a person from another drone training school which very recently got DGCA’s approval, told us, on the condition of anonymity, that “Rs 86,000 sounds like a reasonable sum of money…this much is okay (sic)”.
Drone pilots in India need a license to operate, which costs Rs 25,000 and is valid for 5 years. However, before they can apply for a license, it is mandatory for them to complete a minimum of a 35-hour training program spread over 5 days, which includes classroom sessions, simulator training and practical training: and the only place where they can get this training is at these training schools. In the current pricing regime, the actual cost of getting a license made adds up to over Rs 100,000, which as one pilot we spoke to said was “unfathomable”.
Of the five drone pilots which we spoke to, all had varied years of experience. While some had just started flying a few years ago, some had an experience spanning over two decades. “Fees in upwards of Rs 80,000 is so high that it makes no sense, especially for a person who’s been flying drones commercially for 25 years,” a drone pilot, who did not wish to be named, told MediaNama. “What new am I going to learn in this program? You tell me, does it make sense for someone with my experience to pay that much money for what is essentially proof of basic drone flying expertise,” this person asked.
13/08/20 Soumyarendra Barik/Medianama
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