Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Delivery by Drones: Vaccines may reach remote areas starting in August

India is easing restrictions on drone flights to facilitate their operations over a wider area, making it feasible for operators to use them for purposes such as delivery.

India currently allows drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), to be used only in visual line of sight of their operators. In May, the government granted conditional exemption from the UAS rules to 20 entities to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) experimental flights of drones.

The BVLOS trials will help create a framework for future drone deliveries and other major applications using drones, the government said.

The 20 entities selected for BVLOS experimental drone flights include the Aerospace Industry Development Association of Tamil Nadu, ANRA Consortium A, AutoMicroUAS Aerotech, and SpiceJet.

The testing of the capabilities of these consortia will start soon, after which the companies will undertake trial drone operations to check the ability of delivering vaccines and medicines to remote areas. Once these are done, they are likely to be given permission by August to start operations.

Enabling drones to fly beyond the visual line of sight of operators will open up a host of new opportunities in various fields, including the delivery of vaccines during the pandemic.

Besides companies, state governments too are keen to use drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas, and some are looking at using drones to distribute medicines to the needy. Telangana and Maharashtra are likely to be the first two states to start using drones to deliver vaccines.

Last month, the ministry of civil aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation granted conditional exemption to the Telangana government to conduct experimental BVLOS drone flights for delivery of vaccines.

According to Wing Commander S Vijay, chief operating officer of Skye Air Mobility, one of the entities the Telangana government has shortlisted for delivery of vaccines by drones, the delivery trials will start in the last week of June.

“Presently, operations are restricted to daylight hours, but with sufficient experience and reliability of understanding of the platform, it could also probably go into the night,” Vijay said.

Among the conditions stipulated, drone operations can only be carried out between local sunrise and sunset.

Vijay said a drone can fly about 10 to 11 hours every day, with each flight lasting about 30 minutes.

15/06/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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