The Telangana government, which on Friday received permission from the Civil Aviation Ministry to use drones for experimental delivery of vaccines within the visual line of sight, will undertake ‘Medicine from the Sky’ programme in the state’s Vikarabad district for 24 days.
Eight selected consortia would be divided into four batches of two each, and each batch would perform the sorties for 6 days. A week to conduct on-ground recce would also be given to all consortia before the start of the programme.
The plan for ‘Medicine from the Sky’ (MFTS) shall involve undertaking BVLOS flights in Vikarabad district with the Area Hospital as the take-off site and various primary health centres and sub-centres as the landing sites, an official statement said.
The state government has already engaged the district administration to plan the on-ground operations and has also identified nodal officers to support them.
Each drone would carry a combination of dummy vials and regular vaccines over the course of the trials, the performance recorded in detail and this data shall be used to guide further policies regarding full-scale adoption.
“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,” Principal Secretary, Information Technology, Electronics & Communications, Jayesh Ranjan, said.
He said the success of this programme has the potential to disrupt the healthcare industry and save many lives during emergencies and in less accessible geographies.
The state ITE&C Department’s Emerging Technologies Wing had released its Drone Framework in 2019. Under this, the Wings 2020 event was hosted in Hyderabad, and the state partnered with the World Economic Forum for MFTS programme and released an Expression of Interest (EoI) to assess the capability of drone service providers in providing safe, accurate and reliable pickup and delivery of health care items. Out of the 16 consortia members that had responded, eight had been shortlisted.
While the government is still pursuing the BVLOS exemptions, the MFTS programme has been approved to undertake VLOS feasibility studies for a year. With the support and guidance of the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the Telangana fovernment has finally received the required approvals and exemptions to conduct these trials viz. no-objection from the AAI on use of identified airspace in Vikarabad district, SOP approval for VLOS operations from the DGCA, and UAS 2021 exemption from the Ministry.
To fast track the above process considering the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination drive, the NITI Aayog became a key partner in the journey of MFTS and convened a round table on February 11 for operationalsing drone-based medical deliveries across India.