India okays first trial for e-commerce drone delivery

Drones can be built by anyone with basic knowledge

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet said it has received regulatory approval to test drones to deliver e-commerce parcels, medical, pharma and other essential supplies.

“Post trials and approvals, SpiceXpress, the dedicated cargo arm of SpiceJet, plans to use drones to provide for a quicker, faster and a cost-effective delivery,” low-cost carrier said.

A SpiceXpress-led consortium had submitted a proposal to the regulator for conducting experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations of remotely piloted aircraft in response to a DGCA notice inviting Expression of Interest, it said.

Based on the recommendations of the BVLOS Experiment Assessment and Monitoring Committee, SpiceXpress was granted permission for conducting experimental BVLOS operations, it added.

Drone-based delivery is already a reality in many countries like the US, where e-commerce giant Amazon and others use the technology to deliver packages.

However, the biggest challenge — other than miscreants trying to capture the drones — is maintaining communication with the drone over longer distances.

Drones communicate with their controller using radio waves, and the use of radio transmitters with higher power — a necessity if the drone is to travel several kilometers to make a delivery — raises the possibility of radio interference.

As such, most of the drones in operation at present have a range of less than a km, with some drones losing their signal if they move more than 200-300 meters from their controller.

The sphere of drone delivery in India is seeing some tussle and lobbying from various industry players.

While the aviation industry wants to keep the use of drones limited to themselves, others want everyone to be allowed to operate drones — including courier/e-commerce companies as well as hobby and creative enthusiasts such as Youtubers.

Currently, India has one of the most restrictive policies on drones for a democracy, and has a ‘no permission, no take-off’ regime, under which drones must take permission from the regulatory system before taking off.

However, the government has not been able to enforce the policy, and people in the country use drones freely without taking any permission.

Using Youtube tutorials, drones can be created by anyone in India with a basic level of knowledge of electronics by combining several off-the-shelf components such as motors, propellers, frames, circuit boards and wireless controllers.

Meanwhile, Ajay Singh, chairman and MD of SpiceJet,┬ácalled the decision by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) “a big leap in the air transportation of essential and non-essential supplies in India”.

“We are extremely optimistic about using this exciting new mode of delivery for products like perishables and medicines which have a smaller shelf-life and need urgent deliveries in the remotest parts of India,” he said.

The consortium includes Throttle Aerospace, a drone manufacturing company, AeoLogic, an analytics and software solution firm and Involia, which is a provider of air traffic awareness and collision avoidance services.

SpiceXpress will be looking at last-mile delivery from the warehouse and the prime focus will be on delivering medical emergency parcels and essential supplies in remote areas.

Drones will ensure a faster delivery bringing down costs and would go a long way to augment our business to offer express delivery of medicines, perishable items and e-commerce shipments, SpiceJet said.