Delivery startups Danzo, Swiggy and Zomato, budget airline SpiceJet and Reliance-backed drone startup Asteria Aerospace are among 13 consortia that have been approved to fly tests beyond the Visual Line of Vision (BVLOS) drones.
The country’s civil aviation regulator has moved forward a little more than a year after announcing plans to allow experimental long-haul drone flights before formulating a policy for the region.
The tests, which will see unmanned vehicles either carry payloads or survey vast swats of land, are likely to begin in the first week of July.
This would mark the first stages of India’s plan to develop local drone-based services capabilities, even as it plays with China and the United States.
“We will start flying from the first week of July and plan to fly for about 120 hours in two and a half months,” said Nagotran Kandasamy, founder and director of Throttle Aerospace, which received approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. With Dunzo in March.
Kandasamy said that while the company initially planned to begin testing very soon, the lockdown prompted by the Covid-19 virus outbreak backfired its plans.
Disruption caused by the epidemic also delayed the DGCA’s approval to end 11 of 13 consortia.
The private industry association will have to see at least 100 hours of flight time by September 30 in the airfield designated by the Airports Authority of India.
The logs have to be submitted to the DGCA, which is hoping to use data from experiments to prepare a policy for the BVLOS drone before the year-end.
A senior government official said, “Once they (consortia) complete their flights and submit their logs, we can really understand what the specifications required for BVLOS will be.” “Our plan was to have a draft policy by August, but it was pushed due to the Covid-19 epidemic.”
India is increasingly seeing these experiments as tracking local policy and preparing local industry to make a major push into the drone services sector globally, several government officials and industry participants told ET.
Unlike other forms of aviation, drones are cheap to develop and the bulk of their value lies in moving away from hardware to services.
Another government official working closely on India’s drone master plan said that drones do not require the state to invest billions of dollars unlike other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
He said India’s strengths in software, geospatial imaging and services would make it an ideal provider of services for drones.
“Our information technology services giants already work with the world’s largest power generators, power transmission companies, oil pipeline companies and provide end-to-end services to manage their assets. Now why can’t we offer to manage our drone fleet outside India which will reduce their maintenance costs by hundreds and thousands of crores of rupees? ”
For now, 13 experimental operations are divided into large-scale monitoring and delivery drones.
For Dunzo, Swiggy and Zomato, which is part of the Clearsky Flight Consortium through its subsidiary TechEagle, it is about delivering packages to the consumer’s doorstep via a drone.
For others like the Nandan Nilekani-backed ShopEx, its trials will focus on using drones for B2B logistics. For throttle aerospace, it is about applying vaccines to remote areas such as medical supplies, and eventually even transporting living organs via a drone from the roof of a hospital.
However, India still has a long way to go.
A single window clearance for owners and operators to register their drones saw more than 20,000 entries earlier this year. It is still far from 400,000-odd commercial drones and over 1.2 million recreational drones in the United States.