Telangana also gets nod for BVLOS drone flights for vaccine delivery

Hyderabad: Telangana has secured conditional exemption from the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivery of vaccines, an official statement said on Friday.

Exemption from Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021 has been granted as part of government’s constant endeavour to enhance the scope of drone usage in the country and assist the nation to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, a Civil Aviation Ministry statement said.

Last month, Telangana was granted 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 grant has been extended to Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). The trials may commence by end of May.

Earlier this month, 20 consortia were also granted permission to conduct BVLOS experimental flights of drones. BVLOS trials will help create the regulatory framework for drone deliveries and other major applications.

Meanwhile, the Telangana government said on Friday that the airspace in Vikarabad was already cleared by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and is currently being reviewed by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Once that is cleared, the operations shall begin and the same are being planned with a target to start in 4th week of May or early June, subject to all other clearances by the MHA.

The flights would be conducted in Vikarabad district with the Area Hospital as the hub. The programme shall last 24 days, where four batches would perform 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 2 days would be only doing VLOS flights, followed by BVLOS flights over different distances.

“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 adoption the drones at scale and leveraging them for the healthcare supply chain,” state Principal Secretary, IT, Jayesh Ranjan, said.

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. The BVLOS clearance is a major step towards thoroughly testing the drones over long distances and thus, gathering information on their reliability. This also indicates that the Central government is confident of the domestic drone industry and their technical capabilities to undertake such trials while strictly adhering to all the safety requirements and standard operating procedures.

The ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project was launched by state Information Technology Minister K.T. Rama Rao during the Indian Economic Summit in late 2019. This initiative of the state government is spearheaded by the Emerging Technologies Wing of the ITE&C Department in partnership with the World Economic Forum.

The EoI that was released during Wings 2020, to invite participants for this study had received 16 applications, of which seven would be undertaking flights in the Vikarabad district under this project.