The government has approved drone service for vaccine delivery on an experimental basis in order to provide last-mile healthcare access in a faster mode.

As part of its ongoing efforts to expand the reach of drone use in the country and aid the country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is offering a conditional exemption for experimental drone flights for vaccine distribution.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation have granted a conditional exemption to the Telangana government for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivery of vaccines. The exemption has been granted from Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021.

This exemption shall be valid for a period of one year from the date of approval of the standard operating procedure (SOP) or until further orders, whichever is earlier. Last month, the Telangana government was granted conditional exemption for conducting experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range using drones.

In order 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 the end of May 2021.

Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was granted conditional exemption last month for conducting a feasibility study of Covid-19 vaccine delivery using drones in collaboration with IIT Kanpur.

The grant of these permissions is intended to achieve the dual objectives of faster vaccine delivery and improved healthcare access by ensuring primary healthcare delivery at the citizen’s doorstep, limiting human exposure to COVID congested or COVID prone areas through aerial delivery, ensuring access to health care to the last mile, especially in remote areas, possible integration into the middle mile of medical logistics for long-range drones and improving the medical supply chain, with millions of doses to be transported across India.

One of the conditions for conducting experimental BVLOS drone flights for delivery of vaccines by the Government of Telangana is that the maximum permitted height for drone operations is 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).  It further says that an energy reserve of 15 percent of flight time should be delivered for.

Another condition states that the Government of Telangana shall post a Single Point Coordinator (SPC) at Shamshabad ATC for the entire duration of the trial flights to ensure smooth coordination with ATC. The conditions further mention that Drone operations shall be limited between local sunrise and local sunset. It is stated that Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) should prevail at take-off and landing sites. Further, the condition is that weather limitations stipulated by the drone manufacturer shall be complied with. The conditions specify some requirements to be satisfied for drones used for BVLOS trial flights. It is further stated in the conditions that upon completion of the trials, the Government of Telangana shall submit a detailed Proof of Concept to MoCA and DGCA.

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