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Before the end of the year, India will have its first dedicated drone corridor

Since ancient times, technology has allowed society to defy the limits of human possibility. Especially with regards to modern healthcare, the world has harnessed technology to make incredibly innovative outcomes possible. One such example is drone technology— although originally envisioned for aerial and military use, innovators have found a way to embrace this technology for another crucial application: augmenting healthcare delivery.

Before the end of the year, India could have its first dedicated medical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) corridor. In the form of AIIMS, India’s foremost medical college, it may have a drone corridor with its expanding campus in Haryana’s Jhajjar by the end of the year. If this occurs, moving life-saving equipment from the original campus to AIIMS Jhajjar — a distance of around 50 kilometers and a journey duration of around 1.5 hours depending on traffic – will take only minutes.

A senior aviation ministry official said the ministry and the Airports Authority of India have approved the plan. “AIIMS is awaiting some other clearances. After this happens, test flights will be done. If all goes well, regular (drone) flights can start in about six months”.

One of the top AIIMS officials, who did not wish to be named, also confirmed the same. “We are waiting for clearance from Delhi Police. Once we have that, the drone facility will be started by the health minister,” he said. Initially, the drones will be used to transport blood samples, blood products and medicines.

“There are some tests which are currently not available in the Jhajjar campus. We can use drones to take the samples to the Delhi campus for testing. Similarly, blood products can be carried in case of urgent need,” he explained.

Over the past year, drones have been used to send medical supplies, including Covid vaccines, to remote parts of India. In the coming times, their deployment of life saving medicines is going to increase in a hurry. The tricky part is using them in urban areas, and that too in areas located in the flight paths of airports.

“There have been several occasions when local police in Indian cities have created traffic corridors for vehicles to bring freshly harvested organs from airports to transplant critically ill patients in city hospitals. This is not easy to do considering the traffic conditions in all the major cities of India. Drones can do the same thing in peak-hour traffic,” Arjun Agarwal, MD, drone major Aerodyne India Group.

One of the challenges in transporting drugs, blood samples, blood products or organs used for transplantation is how to maintain its temperature, handle vibrations during transport, and other contingency plans such as biosafety.

Recently, Vertiplane X3, the made-in-India hybrid drone, was displayed at one of the stalls at Indira Gandhi Pratishthan, in Lucknow. Project manager of Tech Eagle, the company manufacturing the drone, Yash Sharma said that the drone had a maximum speed of 120 km/hr, distance coverage of 100 kilometers and a payload capacity of 3 kilogram and can take off with a load of up to 20 kilograms.

“The drone is studded with multiple fail-safe options and a dynamic design which has never been seen before, this Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is ideal for the delivery of cargo for healthcare, defence, maritime, hyperlocal and e-commerce items to the distance of 50 km as it can go 50 km and return 50 km at a time. The drone can fly at the height of 4,500 meters and can bear winds upto 45 km/hr,” Sharma said.

Sources said a panel discussion took place on the sidelines of the India Drone Festival – India’s biggest drone festival – which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 27 at Pragati Maidan to deliberate on these issues. “We discussed the model adopted by countries like Israel where this facility is already in use,” said one of the experts who participated in the deliberations.

A drone corridor is defined as a separate airspace, defined by the appropriate authorities in consultation with airspace designers, in order to exclude commercial UAV operations from the airspace in which manned aircraft operate.

Air traffic control, which comes under AAI, has to play an important role in this corridor as it crosses the flight corridor/approach path of the runway of Delhi airport. AIIMS falls under the approach path of Runway 27 (closest to the Dwarka side). Next comes the IIT area which is the flight corridor to the main runway (28). And beyond that there is access to the Saket Mall-Qutub Minar area runway 29 (closer to the statue of Shiva). IGI Airport is going to commission its fourth runway between runway 28 and 29 in a few months.

“The AIIMS idea to use drones to deliver life-saving medical supplies is fantastic. If it succeeds, other medical institutions in different states can use the same approach to improve technology and equipment usage, said Dr Harsh Mahajan, founder and chief radiologist of Mahajan Imaging.

Indeed, if innovators continue to develop this technology in a safe, secure, scalable, and efficient manner, there is significant potential value that drones can provide, especially when it comes to timely healthcare delivery and measurable healthcare outcomes.
MB Bureau

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