Union Ministry of Civil Aviation and Directorate General of Civil Aviation granted conditional exemption to Telangana government for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivery of vaccines. This exemption will be valid for a period of one year from the date of approval of the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) or until further orders.
This clears the way for the State government for implementation of its ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project launched by Industries Minister KT Rama Rao during the Indian Economic Summit in late 2019. The airspace in Vikarabad has been cleared by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and is currently being reviewed by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Upon receiving clearance, the operations will begin and trials are being planned with a target to start in the last week of May or early June.
Accordingly, the flights would be conducted in Vikarabad district with the Area Hospital as the hub. The programme will last for 24 days, with four batches performing sorties for six days each. The payload for the drones would be vaccine cold storage boxes equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers to record the performance. In each batch of six days, the initial two days would be only doing VLOS flights, followed by BVLOS flights over different distances.
During last month, the Union government gave conditional exemption for conducting experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) range using drones. To accelerate the drone deployment process to formulate application-based models, the Centre has now given exemption from Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021 as part of it’s endeavour to enhance the scope of drone usage in the country and assist the nation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project is an initiative of the State government spearheaded by the Emerging Technologies wing of the IT, Electronics and Communications department in partnership with the World Economic Forum. During Wings 2020, the State government received Expression of Interest from 16 participants, of which seven would be undertaking flights in the Vikarabad district under the project.
The approval for BVLOS, in addition to VLOS, was critical to explore the feasibility of the intended last mile coverage. This is because the medical centres at remote locations are typically far beyond the VLOS range of the vaccine/medical distribution hubs.
In a statement, Principal Secretary for ITE&C Jayesh Ranjan said the approval for BVLOS flights was paramount to the nature of ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project. The success of these trials would establish the use-case and pave the way for adopting the drones at scale and leveraging them for the healthcare supply chain, he said.