The Ministry of Civil Aviation granted a conditional exemption from the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Rules to the Indian Council of Medical Research for conducting a feasibility study of Covid-19 vaccine delivery using drones. The Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an order in this regard earlier this week and said that ICMR had sought exemption from the ministry via an email on February 12. The order signed by joint secretary in the Civil Aviation ministry Amber Dubey said that ICMR has to formulate a standard operation procedure which has to be approved by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
“Now therefore, the Central government, in exercise of the powers conferred under Rule 70 of the UAS Rules 2021, grants conditional exemption to the applicant for a period of one year or until further orders, whichever is earlier from the UAS Rules 2021 for the aforementioned purpose,” the order read.
The ICMR has partnered with IIT Kanpur for this project. Speaking to MediaNama, Dr Samiran Panda, Scientist G and Head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases division of the ICMR, said, “The purpose of the project is to deliver things through drones in cases where it may take a longer time to transport through roadways.” Panda said that they are yet to take a decision on whether ICMR and IIT Kanpur will take a pilot or a demonstration for this project, and indicated that in the coming days a decision will be taken in this regard.
Telangana too receives nod from DGCA for vaccine delivery
The Ministry of Civil Aviation also accorded permission to the Telangana government for their ‘Medicine From the Sky’ project, which aims to deliver vaccines through drones. The permission, valid for a year, has been given for drones which operates within the visual line of sight (VLOS) range. In the coming those involved in this project are hoping that they receive exemption for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations too.
“A feasibility study is being conducted to look at how delivery drones can be used to improve medical supply chains, followed by a pilot implementation in Telangana. The project includes a comprehensive study of drone–based deliveries for blood, vaccines, medical samples and long tail medicine,” said an expression of interest document released by the Information Technology, Electronics and Communications department of Government of Telangana.
According to a release by the Telangana government, the plan for ‘Medicine from the Sky’ shall involve undertaking BVLOS flights in Vikarabad district of Telangana with the Area Hospital as the take-off site and various PHCs and sub-centres as the landing sites.
- Each drone would carry a combination of dummy vials and regular vaccines over the course of the trials
- Performance would be recorded in detail and data shall be used to guide further policies regarding full-scale adoption.
- The program shall be of 24 days, where the 8 selected consortia would be divided into 4 batches of 2 consortia, and each batch would perform the sorties for 6 days.
- A week to conduct on-ground recces would also be given to all consortia before the start of the program.
The Medicine from the Sky trials would yield important information on the reliability of drones and their adoption in medical deliveries. The approval from MoCA is highly appreciated and we look forward to working with the ministry in conducting these trials in the safest manner by strict adherence to SOPs and having risk mitigation strategies in place — Jayesh Ranjan, principal secretary, IT and Industries department, Telangana government.
Other drone-vaccine delivery projects in the pipeline
In February the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor proposed a pilot scheme to prove feasibility of distributing Covid-19 vaccine using unmanned aerial vehicles. The organisations responsible for this particular pilot are CSIR-Central Scientific Instruments Organisation (CISO), CSIR- National Aerospace Laboratory (CSIR-NAL), CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP), CSIR-4PI and IIIT Bengaluru.
The pilot is planned in the region of Hoskote and Doddaballapura near Bengaluru, where CSIR-CSIO and the other organisations have institutional backup and industrial partners, according to the proposal document.
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*Correction (6.34 pm): Removed a paragraph which made reference to an article claiming that the pilot for the drone delivery program of Telangana government was to be done at Adilabad and Karimnagar district
*Update (6.34 pm): Added details from a Telangana government release regarding the place of the vaccine delivery-drone pilot, and other details