In 2014, when Francesco’s Pizzeria in Mumbai successfully delivered a pizza using a drone, the police came knocking at the doors and ensured that he does not repeat this adventure again. It was considered a major security risk and without any legal procedure for licensing, drones were quickly stigmatized.
After 2018, drones saw a new lease of life in India. With new rules and regulations, drone pilot training courses and state governments seriously considering the advantages of drone delivery for medicines in rural areas, authorities in India are slowly opening up to the potential that drone deliveries can offer.
Recently, Google backed startup Dunzo made headlines after announcing that they will be testing deliveries of medicines and Covid vaccines with drones as part of the ‘Medicine from the Sky‘ initiative by Telangana government and the World Economic Forum. The company that is powering Dunzo’s test drone delivery is Skye AirMobility.
Wing Commander S Vijay (Veteran), Chief Operating officer, Skye AirMobility in an interaction with The Times of India–GadgetsNow talked about enabling drone deliveries in India. When it comes to drone delivery, one important thing to consider is battery range and payload capacity.
Responding to this, Wing Commander Vijay said, “Most drones that are suitable for deliveries can cover a distance of up to 30 KM with a maximum payload of about 2 KG to 4KG in one full charge. This would make good business sense to deliver medicines in rural areas. Using drones takes less time and reaches faster than any vehicle. Also, considering the fact that using trucks to transport a load of less than 4 Kg makes little sense. Drones can negate the need for proper roads and when delivery time is crucial, drones can do a better job and traditional means of transport.”
Drone delivery requires permissions that are similar to commercial aircrafts
While the governments may have woken up to drones delivering medicines in rural areas, this doesn’t mean it will be an easy job. The drone delivery company and drones needs proper approvals from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) along with several other ministries including Ministry of Defence and the Indian Air Force. “It is similar to flying an Indigo flight. You will have to take permission before every flight you take. Also, drones need to have proper tracking and safety mechanisms. You will have to inform Air Traffic Control before every flight that your drone takes. And you will have to follow preset flight maps and paths,” he said.
The government supporting drone deliveries doesn’t mean you can fly a medium or large drone from anywhere you want. There are strict regulations that need to be followed and also the drone operators need to have Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) to be eligible to operate a drone. Wing Commander Vijay mentioned that it is no less than flying a commercial aircraft. “Right from the drone specifications, safety features of the drone, specifying flight path, to approvals for flight, license for drone operators among others, the entire drone delivery business is a highly specialised business in India.”
He adds, “It is very different from driving a truck to deliver products. You cannot operate without proper licenses and approvals for attempting drone deliveries. This is why companies like ours are offering our services to companies like Dunzo and Bluedart.”
While the healthcare startup segment is booming in India, it doesn’t make sense for a company to deliver a pack of Paracetamol to rural areas in a truck. This is why most healthcare startups are focusing on urban areas. “With a load capacity of up to 4 KGs, drone delivery companies can be considered as an aircraft of sorts to deliver orders of different companies on a single flight,” he mentioned.
Before 2018, you were not allowed to carry or drop anything using drones. Now, the rules have changed but this doesn’t mean it has become easy. Securing Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit after training drone operators along with the requirements of obtaining licenses and maintaining flight paths make things difficult. “Only a few companies are aiming for drone deliveries due to these regulations while the majority of drone companies are mostly focusing on photography and other leisure activities.”
Wing Commander Vijay mentioned that the rules and regulations are required for the efficient and safe operation of drones in India and also said that there’s a huge push from different state governments to facilitate drone deliveries in rural areas including Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and others for delivery of medicines and vaccines. Having said that, there’s little discussion as to when drone deliveries will be possible for non-medical purposes.