LEEDS, United Kingdom – Drones in India are growing in demand, with the most vulnerable members of India’s communities relying on them for essential medical supplies. Drones in India are removing barriers in terms of accessibility and timely health care deliveries. The World Economic Forum is one of the many drone operators in India, using them to deliver medical supplies to remote areas in the country. Many successful drone trials have already taken place, with further plans to reach more of the vulnerable individuals in India.
The Liberalization of India’s Drone Rules
Start-up drone operators in India began running successful test flights to remote regions of India after India amended the drone rules in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that many individuals in India required a faster mode of transport as a way to receive essential vaccines and medicines.
In 2021, the Government of India liberalized regulations surrounding drones and removed licenses and fees related to operating commercial drones. For example, under the new rules, obligatory fees were reduced from 72 to just four rupees. All in all, the new rules meant that drones in India and the Government of India had further plans to ensure that health care was able to reach Indians from all over the country.
One of the biggest outreach programs in India named iDrone was launched in October 2021, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With it being the first drone-related initiative in South Asia at the time, it had proven to be a success in providing immunization coverage, especially to those from vulnerable populations.
Drone Trials and Their Impact on India
Currently, India uses drones in several ways. Mosquito eradication, agricultural needs and aforestation, such as planting seed balls, are only some of the ways drones in India are being used.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian drones were sent out to remote regions as a way to supply vaccines. One of the drones in India supplied COVID-19 vaccines to an island in the middle of the area’s largest freshwater lake, Loktak located in Manipur. Drones in India were essentially designed to help the country reach its ambitious target of vaccinating its entire eligible adult population, 920 million, by December 2021.
This 31km trip was reported to have taken 15 minutes, which would have taken four hours by road or boat. COVID-19 vaccinations were received even by farmers from the Manipur state, located in northeast India.
Drones in India may prove to be “a game changer” in addressing the barriers in health care delivery in hard-to-reach areas, he said. “I strongly believe that this initiative will further help us achieve the highest possible immunization coverage for COVID-19, says Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s health minister.
Another trial conducted by a diagnostics lab using an aerial system was one of the many trials testing drone delivery for e-commerce deliveries of blood samples. This drone flew from Meerut, Northern India, to the Indian capital of Delhi. The drone journey took a third of the time it would have taken by road, which is over two hours by road.
“Based on data we have gathered from the flights, we have significantly reduced the time it takes when using conventional means, by around 48%,” Ankit Kumar, the CEO of Skye Air Mobility, said in a March 2022 interview.
“Skye Ship One (their small flagship delivery drone) has been the most reliable drone for delivery application in India,” said Mr. Kumar.
More than 1,000 flights and 3,500kg of health supplies have reached Noida, marking India as one of the 12th countries in the world leading the drone industry in 2022.
It is evident across both trials that the biggest advantage of using drones in India is that they are able to reach remote, rural areas. Many areas in India are difficult, if not impossible, to reach due to poor infrastructure and challenging terrain. Many of those from rural areas are also low- to middle-income individuals , who may find it difficult to travel quickly to the nearest health care facility. However, using drones offers an alternative solution to transport these goods to those who need them most.
Another advantage of using drones within health care in India is the speed. Drones have the ability to transport medical essentials faster than traditional forms of transportation, such as by car or boat. This is vital for situations where individuals need medication, or evidently during the pandemic where the entire adult population was required to have vaccinations quickly.
According to The Lancet, It is estimated that 2.4 million Indians die of treatable conditions every year, many of which pass away due to not receiving medicines on time. Drones in India offer a timely solution to ensure that those from rural, low-to-middle-income backgrounds receive their medical supplies.
– Rupinder Kaur