The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Friday granted conditional exemption for drone deployment to the Government of Telangana.
The drone usage permission has been granted for conducting experimental delivery of COVID-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range using drones.
Telangana Gets Permission for 1 Year
The permission exemption is valid for a period of one year or until further orders. These exemptions shall be valid only if all conditions and limitations as stated for the respective entities are strictly adhered to.
Trials will also assist in assessing conditions such as population, degree of isolation, geography etc to identify regions that specifically require drone deliveries.
Earlier this month, similar permission was granted to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for conducting feasibility study of COVID-19 vaccine delivery using drones in collaboration with IIT Kanpur.
The grant of these permissions is intended to achieve the dual objectives of faster vaccine delivery & 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
- Improving medical supply chain, especially with a third vaccine expected to be commissioned and millions of doses to be transported across India
What it Means for Users?
The use of drones to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine could certainly speed up the process and make available the vaccine to the needy faster, especially in remote areas.
However, do keep in mind that the study is being conducted as of now and it could take some time for the process to get implemented depending on the feasibility.
The COVID-19 vaccine delivery drone is being developed in collaboration with Bengaluru-based CDSpace Robotics Pvt Ltd. and Bharat Biotech.
This is not the first time that the MoCA has granted a conditional exemption for the use of drones in India. Prior to this, the MoCA granted a conditional exemption to West Central Railway (WCR), Katni to use drones at train accident sites and maintaining the safety and security of railway assets.
The conditional exemption was also granted to Nagar Nigam of Dehradun, Haldwani Haridwar, and Rudrapur for the preparation of GIS based property database and electronic tax register using drones.
India is not the only country exploring the possibility of using drones. In the race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, countries need to come up with effective plans to reach people in both bustling metropolitan cities and rural areas with less health care investment.
In the United States, states such as Illinois, Michigan and Alabama have enlisted the help of their National Guards to provide vaccinations in rural counties.
A potential solution to minimize disparities could be right above our heads—literally. The San Francisco-based company Zipline, founded in 2014, recently began delivering Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine doses using autonomous drones, as part of the COVAX initiative, a project working to expedite production and equitable worldwide access to coronavirus vaccines, as well as tests and treatments.
Operations have already begun in Ghana, where Zipline has four distribution centres and plans to disseminate 2.5 million doses over the next year, and are soon to start in Zipline’s other markets of the United States and Rwanda. Deliveries in Nigeria are planned for later this year.
Zipline designs and manufactures its own fleet of small, airplane-like drones. Each drone can carry nearly four pounds of payload and autonomously fly itself more than 50 miles from one of the company’s distribution centres.
In the company’s seven-year history, Zipline’s drones have made over 1,15,000 commercial deliveries, sending everything from personal protective equipment to blood, to cancer-treating drugs, with around 20 to 30 percent of those trips carrying critical, life-saving products.
On the first day of delivering COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana, they sent 4,500 does in 36 deliveries.