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Govt invites tender for delivery of Covid jabs by drones

By Arindam Majumder
June 14, 2021 12:36 IST
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However, the tender criteria demands that an entity must be eligible to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations in order to become eligible. Currently, no drone companies are eligible to do BVLOS operations, reports Arindam Majumder.

IMAGE: The tender for drone delivery called by the Indian Council of Medical Research closes on June 22. Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters

The government has invited bids for delivery of medical supplies and vaccines by drones to various parts of the country, in order to tackle supply hurdles hampering Covid vaccination programmes in far-flung areas of the country. 

However, the tender criteria demands that an entity must be eligible to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations in order to become eligible. Currently, no drone companies are eligible to do BVLOS operations. 

The tender has been called by Indian Council of Medical Research, closes on June 22. “ICMR may support in getting Directorate General of Civil Aviation approval only for this activity; however a prior approval from DGCA for BVLOS will be preferred,” the tender document says. 

While Visual Line of Sight flights are dependent and operated within the pilot’s line of sight, BVLOS allows drones to fly beyond visual range, which brings the cost of operation lower and makes it feasible to deploy drones for commercial purposes like food or medicine delivery. 

The ministry of civil aviation and DGCA has recently short listed three firms -- Throttle Aerospace, ANRA Technologies and Dhaksha Unmanned Systems -- to start trial for BVLOS operations from next week.

Nagendran Kandaswamy, founder and CEO of drone manufacturer Throttle Aerospace Systems said that the six-year old firm have obtained all requisite approval from Airport Authority of India, DGCA and other authorities and will start trials from June 18. Throttle has formed a partnership with Narayana Health, Dunzo and SpiceJet for commercial usage of drones.

While for Narayana, the application will be to carry medical and surgical equipment, the consortium with SpiceJet will use it for logistic purpose. SpiceXpress, as subsidiary of SpiceJet is the logistic arm of the airline carrying air freight and door to door delivery.

Dunzo plans to implement drone for hyperlocal deliveries.

“We will be testing the beyond visual operations of our drone at a place 80 kilometres away from the city of Bengaluru. Our consortium has use case partner of Narayana Hrudalaya to implement use case purpose for the drone,” said Kandaswamy.

The two products from Throttle stable has a capacity to carry 1 kg and 2 kg payload.

The company has to showcase 100 hours of safe flying in trial for beyond visual sight of operations. 

Amber Dubey, a joint secretary in the ministry of civil aviation who heads the drone division, said that following test flights by the three selected consortiums, DGCA plans to frame final guidelines for beyond visual operations of drone by 31 March next year. 

Dubey said that beside healthcare BVLOs operations will also open opportunity for other commercial usage of drones. “Healthcare is key but there are several use cases of drones which we can’t think of today. As the policy framework develops there will be more investors chasing these young entrepreneurs,” Dubey said. 

E-commerce major Flipkart has also partnered with Telangana government to develop and execute drone deliveries of medical supplies to remote areas under the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project. As part of the consortium, Walmart-owned Flipkart will deploy drones and enable deliveries of vaccines and medical supplies.

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Arindam Majumder in New Delhi
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