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The union Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has granted permission to the Telangana government to use drones within the visual line of sight (VLOS) range for experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines across the state, for a period of one year.
The Telangana government had sought the exemption from Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Rules of 2021, in March 2021, to incorporate drones into their logistics systems. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), through an email sent on April 26, accorded the approval of the standard operating procedure (SOP).
MoCA’s joint secretary Amber Dubey, in the order, said, “The Central Government, in exercise of powers conferred by Rule 70 of the UAS Rules, 2021, grants conditional exemption to the Applicant Telangana Government, for a period of one year or until further orders, whichever is earlier, from the UAS Rules 2021 for the purpose of trying out drones for delivery.”
These exemptions shall be valid only if all conditions and limitations as stated for the respective entities are strictly adhered to, Dubey added.
Earlier, the DGCA and MoCA had granted a similar permission to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for conducting feasibility study of Covid-19 vaccine delivery using drones in collaboration with IIT Kanpur.
The grants of such permissions are intended to achieve the dual objective of faster vaccine delivery and improved healthcare access by limiting human exposure, ensuring access to healthcare to the last mile and improving medical supply chain. Besides this, it also helps in the integration of long range drones into the middle mile of medical delivery.
Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) did come in handy last year, as India was fighting the first wave of Covid-19. As the cases were increasing several drone startups like Garuda Aerospace, Indian Robotics Solutions, Redwing Aerospace and many others stepped in to carry out sanitisation drives, surveillance activities, delivery and more.
However, the government of Telangana has been looking to incorporate drones into their medical logistics fleet before. In 2019, even before India reported its first Covid case, the Telangana government in collaboration with Apollo Hospitals and the World Economic Forum formalised the plan for a six-month drone delivery pilot called ‘Medicines from the Sky’, starting in 2020. The project aims to explore the use of drones to increase access to healthcare for communities across the Telangana state.
A similar drone delivery project was announced by the Maharashtra government in partnership with California-based medical product delivery company Zipline. The Maharashtra government’s drone delivery network was expected to become operational in early 2020. Through this initiative, the Maharashtra government has aimed to put almost all of its 120 Mn citizens within minutes of a lifesaving delivery via drones.