Telangana’s Medicine from the Sky Program: Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights approved for experimental drone delivery of vaccines
Hyderabad: The ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project was launched by the Hon’ble Minister K.T. Rama Rao during the Indian Economic Summit in late 2019. This initiative of the Government of Telangana is spearheaded by the Emerging Technologies Wing of the ITE&C Department in partnership with the World Economic Forum. The EoI that was released during Wings 2020, to invite participants for this study had received 16 applications, of which 7 would be undertaking flights in the Vikarabad District under this project.
On 29th April 2021, the exemption from UAS 2021 was given by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to undertake only Visual-line-of-sight (VLOS) flights in Medicine from the Sky project. But with continued support from MoCA and DGCA, the Telangana Government has finally received approval to undertake Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights under this project.
The approval for BVLOS, in addition to VLOS, was critical to explore the feasibility of the intended last-mile coverage. This is because 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 with the domestic drone industry and its technical capabilities to undertake such trials while strictly adhering to all the safety requirements and standard operating procedures.
The airspace in Vikarabad was already cleared by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Once that is cleared, the operations shall begin and the same is being planned with a target to start in the 4th week of May or early June, subject to all other clearances by MHA.
The flights would be conducted in Vikarabad District with the Area Hospital as the hub. The program shall last 24 days, where 4 batches would perform sorties for 6 days each. The payload for the drones would be vaccine cold storage boxes equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers to record the performance. In each batch of 6 days, the initial 2 days would be only doing VLOS flights, followed by BVLOS flights over different distances.
Shri. Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary, Government of Telangana, quoted that “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.”