Drones Permitted for Vaccine Delivery in India

by Ajay Prakash
Drone flying with vaccine box

Flying drones for the delivery of vaccines has been permitted on a trial basis in India. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has given specific permission to the state of Telangana for using such drones for a period of one year for this purpose.

India has been very slow in allowing the usage of drones in civilian applications, fearing security issues. The Unmanned Aircraft System rules were notified by the Government of India as late as 12 March 2021.

Unmanned Aircraft System Rules

These rules apply to –
1. Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registered in India, wherever they may be; or
2. a person owning or possessing or engaged in exporting, importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring, or maintaining an Unmanned Aircraft System in India; or
3. all Unmanned Aircraft System for the time being in or over India
The present permission grants a conditional exception to the rules in force.

Why Are Drones Needed?

As the second Corona wave has hit the country, medical aid is coming in from all quarters. The only way out of this pandemic is to vaccinate the entire eligible population of the country, above 18 years of age. To accomplish this, vaccines have to reach each and every village of the country.

As the government explores all methods of delivering the vaccine safely, using drones turned out to be a cheap alternative. In a country where 700 million doses of vaccine have to be administered twice around (1.4 billion doses), all within a span of 6 to 8 weeks – the impossible has to be conquered.

Mark Martin, chief executive of aviation consultancy firm Martin Consultancy LLC, in a statement to the Mint points out –

As part of the COVID vaccine transportation initiative, India has the potential of using up to five UAV or drones per district with a range of 80km and with a payload of 10 kg and endurance of two hours. With 718 districts in India, 3,600 drones can be deployed to distribute an effective weight of vaccines via each flight, or 15,000 kg vaccine distribution capability in a single day”.

The final destination has to be the secondary health centers in the 664,369 villages of India -a logistics nightmare.

Flight Conditions & Rules

Drones Cleared to Fly news item

Cleared To Fly Times Of India – Times of India news

The government order states that –

1. The flight height will be restricted to 400 ft. above ground level.
2. An energy reserve of 15% of flight time has to be provisioned for.
3. Drone flying will be between local sunrise and sunset times.
4. Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) should prevail at take-off and landing sites.
5. Weather limitations as stipulated by the drone manufacturer shall be complied.

A drone being test flown

Medical Drone Credit Business Line

Drones have been used in a few countries such as Ghana for the delivery of vaccines under the COVAX-WHO program. US’s Zipline has also used drones to supply drugs in Rwanda and medical equipment in the state of North Carolina, US.

What other applications can you think of for the drone delivery technology? Your comments are welcome, as always.

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