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Exclusive: Centre allows State govts, academia to apply for beyond line-of-sight drone operations

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You’re reading it here first: In a first, the Central government has given its nod to government and educational institutions to take up “beyond the visual line of sight” (BVLOS) operations provided that they meet the criteria of the Directorate General Of Civil Aviation. MediaNama has learnt that this decision was taken in a BVLOS expert committee meeting recently in view of the myriad proposals the Ministry of Civil Aviation was receiving with regard to the use of drones to deliver COVID19 vaccines.

What is BVLOS? As opposed to “visual line of sight” (VLOS)  operations which underlines that the pilot of the drone has to maintain continuous, unaided visual contact with the unmanned aircraft, BVLOS drone operations allow for piloting a drone remotely, without having to be manoeuvred by looking at it.

Speaking to MediaNama, Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary at Ministry of Civil Aviation and head of the Drones Division said, “Based on the requests received, it has been decided that government entities and leading academic institutions can apply for BVLOS experiments; provided that they meet all the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) requirements.”

The decision was taken by the inter-ministerial BVLOS experiment committee headed by Aviation Secretary Pradeep Kharola recently. Notes from the meeting, seen by MediaNama, state, “BVLOS experiments shall be allowed for academia and State governments on a case-to-case basis, subject to condition that they meet all requirements for BVLOS experiments as applicable to other consortia.”

The consortia here refers to the around 10 drone companies who were permitted last year by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to take carry out BVLOS drone projects in designated airspaces across the country as part of a regulatory sandbox.

The decision comes in line with the recently notified Unmanned Aerial System Rules 2021 which set to allow BVLOS operations. The rules say that the DGCA “may also establish an Unmanned Aircraft Traffic MAnagement (UTM) System in the airspace”, and provide UTM service providers a license for this, which is a key requirement for carrying out BVLOS operations.

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Representatives of the Telangana government too were in the BVLOS Expert Committee meeting. “The decision by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to allow BVLOS operations for governments and academic institutions will help in this current pandemic scenario. Earlier the process of applying for permissions was cumbersome, and this decision simplifies the same in a large manner,” Rama Devi Lanka, the director of the Emerging Technologies division of Telangana’s Information Technology, Electronics and Communications (ITEC) department told MediaNama.

The Telangana government on April 29 received exemption from the Ministry of Civil Aviation for carrying of visual line of sight (VLOS) operations for its vaccine delivery project through drones. In the coming days, in view of this significant decision by MoCA, the government hopes to get BVLOS approval for its project.

Rules formed to remove/add consortia partners

In the BVLOS expert committee meeting rules were also formed to accept new consortia members. The minutes said, “The change in BVLOS consortia partners may be accepted subject to the proposed partners receiving their security clearance from Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).”

For removal of a consortia partner, the committee said, “Dropping of a consortia partner may be permitted subject to an undertaking from the consortium that they can carry out the operations without the said consortium partner.”

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