COVID-19: Experimental drone flights for vaccine delivery; govt aims to improve healthcare access

In a bid to boost the delivery COVID-19 vaccines, the government is planning to deliver the vaccinations through drones. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have granted conditional exemption to the Government of Telangana for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivery of vaccines.

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 medical supply chain, with millions of doses to be transported across India.

Telangana has secured conditional exemption for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for delivery of vaccines.

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.

According to the government of Telangana, the maximum permitted height for drone operations is 400 feet above ground level. Besides, the conditions further mention that drone operations shall be limited between local sunrise and local sunset.

Last month, the Government of Telangana was granted conditional exemption for conducting experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range using drones.

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

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