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Telangana could start BVLOS drone flights for vaccine delivery by May-end

Days after the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) permitted State governments and academic institutions to apply for “beyond the visual line of sight” (BVLOS) drone operations, the Centre gave permission for the same for the Telangana government’s Covid-19 vaccine delivery project. Earlier, the state was only permitted to operate “visual line of sight” (VLOS) drone operations.

Under VLOS operations the pilot of the drone has to maintain continuous, unaided visual contact with the unmanned aircraft, whereas under BVLOS drone operations pilots can operate a drone remotely, without the need to continuously be within visual range. Simply put, BVLOS drones are remotely operated as opposed VLOS drones.

The state government has also got approval from the Airports Authority of India (AA), and is awaiting final approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs which is conducting a review. The Telangana government plans operations at the end of May or early June, through which drones would be allowed to transport vaccine cold storage boxes equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers to record the performance. The operations which will last 24 days, where in 4 batches would perform sorties for 6 days each. In each batch of 6 days, the initial 2 days would be only doing VLOS flights, followed by BVLOS flights over different distances.

Several conditions need to be met for BVLOS

On May 7, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an order stating that Telangana has been given an exemption under the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules 2021 for a period of one year to operate BVLOS drones for vaccine delivery.  “The Central government in exercise of the powers conferred by Rule 70 of the UAS Rules 2021, grants conditional exemption from UAS Rules 2021 to the applicant (Telangana government) for the aforementioned purpose (vaccine delivery). This exemption shall be subject to the conditions as stated in Annexure 1 and the directions/exemptions issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation,” it said.

In its order, the Central government listed out several requirements that the Telangana government has to comply with before commencing flights:

  • The maximum permitted height for drone operations is 400 feet above ground level.
  • Energy reserve of 15 per cent of flight time should be provisioned for
  • Before the trial flight, a hazard identification and risk management workshop should be done
  • Telangana government shall post a coordinator at Shamshabad air traffic control for the entire duration of trial flight
  • Drone operations shall be limited between local sunrise and sunset
  • Upon completion of trials for BVLOS flight, the Telangana government should submit proof of concept to MoCA and Directorate General of Civil Aviation

Drones can save time to deliver vaccines in remote areas: TS

A release by the Telangana governments aid that the medical centres at remote locations are typically far beyond the VLOS range of the vaccine/medical distribution hubs.”The BVLOS clearance is a major step towards thoroughly testing the drones over long distances and thus gathering information on their reliability. This also indicates that the central government is confident of the domestic drone industry and their technical capabilities to undertake such trials while strictly adhering to all the safety requirements and standard operating procedures,” the release said.

“The approval for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights was paramount to the nature of Medicine from the Sky Project. The success of these trials would establish the use-case and pave the way for adoption the drones at scale and leveraging them for the healthcare supply chain, said Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary of the Information Technology, Electronics and Communications Department in the Government of Telangana.

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