In a major push to the drone tech sector in India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) under its “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) policy has selected at least 10 consortia to run pilot projects. This will enable DGCA to gain insights into BVLOS operations and thereby decide the policies for the next phase of developments.
A Medianama report said that the selected consortia include Asteria Aerospace, ShopX, Spicejet, Dunzo, Throttle Aerospace Systems, Saubika Consortium, Asteria Aerospace, ShopXOmnipresent Consortium, ANRA Consortia A and B, Spicejet, Dhaksha Unmanned Systems and ClearSky Flight Consortium. As per reports, 13 consortia were selected, of which Throttle Aerospace Systems and Dunzo had received their permission letters in early March. The remaining consortia of Sagar Defence Engineering has also received DGCA’s permission to start the project.
Among these selected companies, there are differences in the potential applications of drones. For instance, some consortia such as ShopXOmnipresent and ANRA are reportedly planning to test delivery using drones, while some such as Saubika are reportedly looking to test surveillance for military purposes, disasters, inspections and payload deliveries. Spicejet is reportedly looking to test transport of cargo goods and Asteria will reportedly experiment with surveying long pipelines at crude oil refineries.
These consortia that have been offered the sandbox have to submit a proof of concept by September 2020 to a committee called BVLOS Experiment Assessment and Monitoring (BEAM), headed by Airport Authority of India’s joint general manager, Dilip Kumar Damodaran. The committee has members from DGCA, AAI, and the Civil Aviation Ministry.
DGCA had issued invitations in May 2019 for expression of interest for industrial partners to conduct experimental BVLOS operations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in India, leading to the submission of a Proof of Concept (POC). The BVLOS requires a long-range Telemetry to be on the UAV which enables the transmission of data such as Attitude, Altitude, Speed, Position, as well as other parameters to control the aircraft, to the pilot.
It was earlier reported that these test deliveries will be conducted for about 100 hours of BVLOS trials for delivery of medicines, food and other packages in Bengaluru in late-April. However, due to Covid-19, it appears to have been delayed.
According to DataLabs By Inc42’s Drone Technology: India Opportunity Report 2019, the total funding raised by drone startups in India from 2014 to 2018 was just $16.56 Mn which accounts for a mere 2.26% of the total deeptech funding ($732 Mn) in this period. Drone startups in India are weighed down by high costs and compliance burden when it comes to regulations, which has negatively impacted the investor confidence as well, though interest remains high.
Due to Covid-19, DGCA has launched the GARUD portal, which will provide fast track exemptions to government agencies for using drones in their operations against the pandemic. Providing exemptions to government agencies by changing Rule 160 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, for easy and fast approvals for drone usage, any government department can apply for these exemptions on the GARUD platform.
Update: June 4, 2020| 12:51 PM
The story has been updated to highlight that Sagar Defence has now received the approval to start pilot.