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Packages by air: Drones take to city skies to deliver groceries | Latest News Delhi

Packages by air: Drones take to city skies to deliver groceries | Latest News Delhi

Drones buzzing above tall apartment buildings, delivering essentials such as groceries, medicines, meals, and packages to one’s doorstep — what seems like a scene straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel is now the new normal in several Gurugram condominiums, and residents swear by timely deliveries by the machines.

A team of engineers making a drone in a Tech Eagle manufacturing unit at sector-45 near AS tower in Gurugram on Friday. (Parveen Kumar/HT)

One such condo is Fresco, a gated community in Sector 50.

“Drones make about 40 flights to our apartment complex daily, delivering over 100 packages and reducing delivery vehicles’ traffic. These packages by air are now integral to our daily lives, handling many quick commerce and other deliveries,” said RWA president Nilesh Tandon.

In recent years, drones have been used for aerial photography, agriculture, surveillance, and the delivery of medical supplies. However, an increasing number of drone companies are now exploring opportunities in urban logistics.

The Fresco society last year partnered with Skye Air, a Gurugram-based drone delivery company — perhaps the first apartment complex in the country to sign up for drone delivery on a trial basis.

“Drone delivery is the future of urban logistics. They are fast, efficient, sustainable, and help eliminate carbon emissions and road congestion. Besides, they will boost last-mile delivery in cities,” said Ankit Kumar, founder and CEO of Skye Air.

“Currently, we deliver about 1,000 packages every day to about 10 housing societies in Gurugram,” he said.

A drone hovers outside Fresco, a gated community in Sector 50 of Gurugram, on its way to deliver goods. (Parveen Kumar/HT)
A drone hovers outside Fresco, a gated community in Sector 50 of Gurugram, on its way to deliver goods. (Parveen Kumar/HT)

Skye Air has created two hubs — in Sector 30 and Sector 71 — where e-commerce and quick commerce companies send their packages to be delivered to customers. Packets are sorted at the hub and loaded onto drones. The drone takes off from the hub and delivers to a pod installed in housing societies, from where a “sky walker” picks up the packages and delivers them to individual apartments.

“Currently, our drone, a hexacopter, flies about 2.5 km from the hub to the apartments, carrying a weight of around 5 kg,” Kumar said.

Ecom Express, a logistics firm, delivers 150 to 200 parcels daily in Gurugram in partnership with Skye Air. “Although we are at a nascent stage of drone deliveries, and flying large parcels is still a challenge, the technology evolution promises drone deliveries as the future of the express delivery model,” said Vishwachetan Nadamani, chief operating officer at Ecom Express.

TechEagle, another Gurugram-based company, has also partnered with e-commerce clients and logistics companies. “We have run pilots in over 30 cities and have launched regular operations in Rishikesh, Guwahati, Bilaspur, and in Gurugram’s sectors 75, 76, 77, 78, and 79. We are delivering everything from food to groceries. Soon, we will launch operations in Noida. We are conducting intercity flights between Chandigarh and Shimla,” said Vikram Singh Meena, CEO and founder, TechEagle.

Noida-based TSAW Drones, another drone delivery company, is betting big on intercity operations. The company recently partnered with Gurugram-based CABT Logistics to accelerate the express logistics ecosystem in Kolkata, and is setting up 136 drone hubs across the country to enable drone deliveries across 24 cities in India.

“We currently have 27 drones in operation and 19 hubs in cities such as Noida, Meerut, Agra, Lucknow, Kanpur, Hyderabad, and Nizamabad. We are creating a hub-and-spoke model to connect small towns to bigger cities. Currently, we make about 75 flights a day between hubs, each flight covering a distance of about 70km and carrying 8 kg,” said Kishan Tiwari, CEO and founder, TSAW Drones, which uses VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drones for intercity flights.

A VTOL drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of taking off, hovering, and landing vertically like a helicopter. TSAW has established a command-and-control centre (CCC) in Noida to oversee its drone flights nationwide, which provides real-time updates, analysis, and situational awareness.

Tiwari pointed out that currently, around 90% of India lacks same-day delivery connectivity, especially in tier-2 and tier-3 cities where logistics companies have low penetration. “Road shipping costs rise when trucks aren’t fully loaded, making partial deliveries to these areas very expensive. Drone delivery, costing about 4 per km, is crucial here — for instance, Noida to Meerut costs about 1,200. Also, the drones can also take care of severe manpower shortages in the logistics industry ,” he said.

There is a green benefit too.

“Our long-range, heavy-payload drones are 20 times faster and 2.5 times cheaper than traditional methods, slashing carbon emissions by 98%. Flying at 120 km/h, they deliver within 30 minutes, consolidating multiple parcels per flight with a 5 kg capacity. This streamlines end-to-end deliveries, reducing costs and enhancing operational efficiency,” Meena said.

In India, the drone industry received a significant boost with the Drone Rules 2021, which introduced a more liberalised regime for UAVs compared to previous regulations. Under these new rules, several requirements and approvals were eliminated, simplifying drone operations for civilian operators. The government introduced a Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, offering 120 crore over three years to establish India as a global drone hub by 2030.

The Digital Sky Platform, hosted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), serves as the online portal for managing unmanned aircraft system activities in India. It has the drone airspace map of India, categorising the country’s airspace into red, yellow, and green zones. Operating drones in red and yellow zones requires permission from the central government and Air Traffic Control authorities, respectively.

“Current regulations, though highly liberal, lack clarity on BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations, critical for intercity cargo delivery. While BVLOS operations are not prohibited, clear regulatory guidelines are essential. The industry is actively engaged with the government and is hopeful for the issuance of BVLOS guidelines soon,” said Tiwari. BVLOS refers to drone operations conducted beyond the pilot’s visual range (500 metres), unlike VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) operations.

However, despite regulatory advancements, major Indian cities remain predominantly in red zones. “Currently, scaling up intracity drone delivery faces challenges due to most major cities falling under red zones,” said Kumar.

Meena stressed on the importance of streamlining the Digital Sky Platform to manage real-time operations in red zones. “But the industry also needs to show its capability to manufacture drones at scale, incorporating fail-safe features,” he said.

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