Dunzo or Swiggy from the sky?


Trials get nod, but still a long way to go for drone deliveries to pick up

If there’s one thing the lockdown made clear it was that we didn’t have enough online delivery options. The long-discussed drone delivery system could have been the saviour when the world stayed at home.

Things are picking up now for the drone delivery trials. On Friday, members of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Committee held a discussion to chart out the way forward. This committee will work on a framework for drone standardisation in India.

Recently, the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGCA) gave its nod to conduct trials for Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) drones and submit the data from the trials to frame a policy for the operation of this category of drones. However, the trials got delayed due to the lockdown. Now the trials can start since Unlock 1.0 is in effect. The civil aviation regulator has allowed a consortium of 13 players to conduct trials for BVLOS drones which would be done during the course of the next few months. Dunzo, Swiggy, Zomato, SpiceJet, Asteria Aerospace are among those who have received permission for conducting drone trials.

However, there’s still a long way to go before selected companies are allowed to operate drones to deliver services. “The DGCA has given permission to some operators to conduct trials. These operators would be using drones for delivery of essential services, food, medicines and so on. Once the trials are over, they will be given permission to fly drones. However, there are several issues which need to be sorted out before allowing them to operate drones in the country,” SN Omkar, chief research scientist, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and head of the BIS Committee told Bangalore Mirror. Omkar outlined several teething issues which need to be worked on before allowing BVLOS drones in the country.

“The big companies are not going to operate a dozen or so drones but hundreds of them. So a drone corridor has to be created to allow these drones to operate. There is also the issue of traffic management, safety and security. Can these drones with cameras fly over your home terrace? What happens if there is a mishap? Who is going to pay for insurance if they fall? There are issues of software and hardware reliability and also rouge drones. A pandora’s box is about to open,” Omkar added.

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While the DGCA team would also collect data from the trials before framing the policy, the BIS Committee too will be deliberating these issues before coming out with Drone Standardisation in India.

“On Friday, we discussed several points at the webinar. However we could not arrive at anything conclusive. There are still some points that need to be discussed and we will be meeting again next week,” said Omkar.

The trials will be conducted in a designated airspace and the consortium would have to clock over 100 hours of flying. As per the DGCA’s guidance manual for remotely pilot for aircraft systems (RPAS) or drones, the trials should be conducted in controlled conditions within identified and segregated low altitude Indian territorial airspace for a period of at least two months, to collect evidence, prepare a safety case and submit Proof of Concept (POC) to DGCA.

The proposed experimental BVLOS RPAS operation should be conducted by team of expert agencies and service providers, known as Consortium. “Experimental BVLOS operations should be conducted in low traffic density, uncontrolled (Class G) airspaces (Green Zone) below 400 ft AGL, preferably in sparsely populated areas to reduce the risk of collateral damage,” the manual states. The proposals submitted to DGCA will be evaluated by an Expert Committee known as BVLOS Experiment Assessment and Monitoring (BEAM) Committee. The BEAM Committee, on examination of the proposal, may reject or recommend to DGCA for approval of the proposal, along with recommended amendments, if any,” it added.



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Sagar Biswas

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