BENGALURU: Nandan Nilekani backed ShopX and SpiceJet’s cargo unit SpiceXpress are among five consortiums selected by India’s civil aviation authority to conduct experiments of long-range commercial drone flights, people familiar with the matter told ET.
The move is part of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone experiments, for which it had sought expressions of interest in May last year.
ET reported in December that DGCA had approved two consortiums – of delivery app Dunzo and drone startup Throttle Aerospace – for the experiments.
“These agencies will now conduct their tests, based on which we will then develop the entire architecture for the beyond visual line of sight drone operations,” said Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, without either confirming or denying the latest developments.
“This is just at the experimentation stage, the rules will take at least 6-8 months to be finalised,” Dubey added.
The second batch of approvals comes ahead of a planned drone pilot training programme that the DGCA is organising on February 4-5 at Begumpet, near Hyderabad. All 30 consortiums that had applied to participate in the BVLOS experiments have been invited.
Trained pilots are mandatory for firms to conduct BVLOS experiments, as per the DGCA’s original plan. Due to a lack of clearances for drone training institutes in the country, the DGCA will conduct the training itself to fast track the project, people in the know of the matter told ET. “There have been several delays, but the government has been proactive in overcoming the issues...This is one of the few examples of public-private partnership at a policy level, so it’s bound to run into some issues,” a top industry executive told ET on the condition of anonymity.
Another government official told ET that the civil aviation ministry was keen to give clearances to as many firms as possible for the drone experiments but in a phased manner. He said final clearances to the consortiums that have currently secured approvals will be given after the pilot training exercise. “This (BVLOS drones) has huge positive benefits, but also has huge risks. That’s why we’re proceeding with extreme caution, and it’s the same across the world,” said Dubey. Amit Sharma, cofounder and CEO of ShopX, said the company was focusing on developing drone technologies that could be deployed within the next 18 months, without commenting on the DGCA approval.