Written By Githae Mwaniki
Drone operations are in a growing number of African countries as awareness of what these unmanned aircraft can deliver to the cargo and photography sectors.
South Africa is leading the sector in Africa, as the South African government has enacted drone regulations that are enforced by SCAA. Their numbers are growing and so is the number of approved drone operators and ATOs offering drone piloting, maintenance and operations courses.
Rwanda also has a budding drones sector with basic policy guiding drone operations and pioneer drone operators like Zipline using these unmanned vehicles to deliver critical medical supplies to places previously inaccessible.
Zipline is using drones to supply blood and medicines to remote hospitals and health centre. The company has a dedicated drone port where over 500 deliveries a day are taking place – journeys at speeds exceeding 100km/h.
Most deliveries take about 30 minutes covering a range of 80kms with a 1.8kg payload and multiple drones are used where bigger loads are required to be delivered. Other African countries like Ghana have limited drone operations.
In Kenya the interest from in drones is huge. Ever since 2015 several individuals have been importing and operating the drones and their use has caused concern amongst security agencies. This has led the KCAA to issue a blanket ban on all operations, directing all operators to get a permit from the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
But the MOD lacked capacity to approve such regulations and there were no regulations in place. This hampered the industry with only light drones used for photography being authorised to continue.
Then in 2016, the Ministry of Transport and the KCAA 2016 engaged the public and set the initial policy on drones also referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems(RPAS). This was to guide in the establishment of regulations to facilitate drone operations. The first draft of RPAS Regulations 2017 were released and went through public participation before being gazetted.
But when the regulations were presented to the Kenyan Parliament committee for delegated legislation for approval, the committee rejected them because it said there was insufficient public participation. The committee also cited inconsistency in the fines when compared to the fines in the main Civil Aviation Act 2013.
The committee noted that the regulations did not address the concerns of safety, security, breach of privacy as contained in the bill of rights of the Kenyan constitution. “The penalty imposed by regulation 56 of Ksh 5 million or six month imprisonment, or both , contravenes Section 82(4) of the Civil Aviation Act , which allows for the imposition of a fine not exceeding Ksh2 million or three years imprisonment “ a delegated committee chairperson noted when tabling the report in Parliament that rejected the RPAS Regulations 2017.
This forced KCAA back to the drawing board. After further work they released revised UAS Regulations 2019 with significant changes.
In May this year KCAA held public participation meetings canvassing a wide cross-sectional representation. At present the KCAA is fine tuning the public input before releasing the revised version of the regulations.
“We are compiling the views from the public and after we are done with that we shall present them to the parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation for approval,” KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe noted expressing optimism that they will be approved this time round.
Kibe said the regulations will then be forwarded to Parliament for approval, and if approved they will be forwarded to the cabinet secretary for transport for promulgation paving way for commercial operations of drones in Kenya.
Drones operations stakeholders have long complained that it has taken too long for the regulations to be adopted.
“We have been waiting for too long and it is time that these regulations are ratified by Parliament to pave way for use of drones in Kenya,” said Sanjeev Gadhia, Chief Executive Officer of Astral Aviation. Astral Aviation is a major air cargo operator that is looking to become a drone operator, as it plans to use one of the largest cargo drones – a Fly Ox capable of uplifting two tonnes of cargo.
The proposed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations 2019 will compel operators to apply and be certified as with an ROC (Remotely Aircraft Operators Certificate) and the drone operations will be categorized on the risk posed by their operation thus it will range from a category A low risk, category B medium/regulated lower risk and category C high risk/manned aviation approach.