The ‘Medicines from Sky’ project has received a shot in the arm, with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Director General of Civil Aviation according a conditional nod to the Telangana government for deployment of drones for delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.

The permission has been granted for conducting experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range, normally about 500 meters, . The permission exemption is valid for one year or until further orders, subject to the conditions laid out.

Telangana government, World Economic Forum and HealthNet Global, had signed a collaboration agreement for the ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project. A feasibility study is being planned to study drone-based delivery of blood, vaccines, medical samples and long tail medicine. Eight consortiums were shortlisted to participate based on EoIs.

Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary Ministry of Civil Aviation, in an order stated: “The Central government, in exercise of powers conferred by Rule 70 of the UAS Rules, 2021, has granted conditional exemption to Telangana for the purpose of trying out drones for delivery.”

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.

Trials will also assist in assessing conditions such as population, degree of isolation and geography, to identify regions that specifically require drone deliveries.

Wing Commander S Vijay, Chief Operating Officer of Skye Air Mobility, told Business Line: “Now, the consortiums shortlisted by Telangana will be able to start trials on ground to build a safety case for regulators for considering the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) range.”

Telangana had invited EoI and of the 16 consortia members that had responded, 8 have been shortlisted.

It is proposed to take up 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. The programme will be for 24 days, where the eight selected consortia would be divided into four batches of two 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.

To fast track the above process considering the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination drive, NITI Aayog became a key partner in the journey of MFTS.

Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary, Telangana, said: “The Medicine from the Sky trials would yield important information on the reliability of drones and their adoption in medical deliveries.

The success of this programme has the potential to disrupt the healthcare industry and save many lives during emergencies and in less accessible geographies.”

On similar lines, the International Crops Research Institute (ICRISAT) was permitted to deploy drones for agricultural research activities, apart from some agriculture varsities and educational institutions.

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