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Government of India’s policy on delivery drones taking wing

DGCA has taken significant steps in firming out govt’s policy on allowing drones for commercial purposes.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Oct 08, 2019, 06.21 PM IST
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The DGCA had sought applications from players interested in conducting BVLOS drone operations on an experimental basis in May, and set a deadline for July 10 to receive expressions of interest.
BENGALURU: Will a drone deliver your dinner home during a Dussehra holiday in the near future? The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has taken a small but significant next step in firming out the government’s policy on allowing drones for civilian and commercial purposes.

The DGCA has sought additional details from seven consortia that had applied to conduct long-range, or beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), drone experiments. The seven that were picked were food and delivery companies Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo, medical delivery providers Zipline and Redwing, and large enterprises Tata Advanced Systems Limited and Honeywell, which is a member of a consortium formed by drone maker Throttle Aerospace.

The civil aviation authority also rejected 27 applicants, multiple people aware of the matter told ET. These individuals spoke off record.

Rejections were largely due to incomplete information furnished by the companies.

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Zomato, Swiggy, Dunzo and Tata Advanced Systems did not respond to ET’s queries till press time Monday. Zipline and Redwing said they were waiting to receive approvals from the DGCA.

“The DGCA has sought additional technical details pertaining to our BVLOS application,” said one of the consortia members. The person requested anonymity as the DGCA has not made these details public yet.

‘First Operational Flights by Jan/Feb’
“We’re hoping that they (the DGCA) will grant us approvals in the next one month, which will allow us to begin work on setting up our solutions and hopefully begin flying by January next year,” the person added.

The DGCA had sought applications from players interested in conducting BVLOS drone operations on an experimental basis in May, and set a deadline for July 10 to receive expressions of interest. As per the original plan chalked out by the civil aviation authority, approvals to conduct the experiments should have been received in August, with each approved party receiving two months for preparations and two more months to run experiments.

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“The process has been drawn out because of the unavailability of members of the BVLOS Experiment Assessment and Monitoring committee,” said a person working with the DGCA on the programme. While a sub-committee has been formed for expediting approvals, the process is taking longer than anticipated as final endorsements still require the entire committee to sign off on them.

Redwing and Zipline have partnered with the state governments of Uttarakhand and Maharashtra, respectively, along with other technical partners, to enable delivery of drugs, vaccines and blood packets to remote areas. With both solutions being largely focused on operating outside metropolitan regions, the DGCA-approved experiment will be the commercial launch of their services.

However, given that metropolitan areas are no-fly zones under the Digital Sky policy, Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo are likely to conduct technical demonstrations without actually delivering packages to customers. ET was unable to ascertain the details of projects that Tata Advanced Systems and Honeywell are planning to conduct. “We’re hoping that by January or February we will see the first operational flights, because regulatory approvals are taking time. But we can say with some certainty that it’s no longer a matter of ‘if ’, but ‘when’, as far as experiments go,” said another member from a consortium that had heard back from the DGCA.

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