At least 1,000 applicants are seeking regulatory approvals to operate drone-based transport services in Kenya, hinting at a high demand for the robotic aircraft.
Drone owners want to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for film shooting, relief services and other commercial purposes, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has said.
Non-military use of drones is currently restricted here due to lack of a legal framework.
KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe, however, expects the use of the UAVs to start in Kenya’s airspace from next month once the National Security Advisory Committee approves regulations for commercialisation of drones in Kenya.
“We submitted the regulations to the National Security Advisory Committee and are waiting for the approval before giving a greenlight to drone operations in Kenya,” said Mr Kibe.
This is the first time that Kenya has moved to regulate commercial use of drones, following in the footsteps of Rwanda.
Among other things, the proposed regulations require commercial drone owners to have security clearance from the Ministry of Defence and have trained pilots. Civilians are limited to flying drones at a height of not more than 400 feet.
Failure to follow all the rules will attract a maximum of Sh500,000 in fines or a jail term of not more than three months, the proposed regulations state.
The committee, chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and comprising all security agencies including the Kenya Defence Forces and Kenya Police Service, is currently reviewing the rules.
The KCAA drafted the regulations after a series of meetings with wananchi to discuss the draft rules.
Astral Aviation chief executive officer Sunjeev Gadhia is one of the applicants seeking the KCAA licence.
“It is good news that the regulations have been submitted for approval; this shows the commitment that KCAA has in establishing the drones in Kenya,” said Mr Gadhia.
Astral has sought a permit to introduce drones for commercial use in Kenya as soon as the regulations are approved.
Mr Gadhia said the firm has set aside Sh50 million ($500,000) to start drone operations as early as next year.
He said they also intend to start a drone-manufacturing unit in the country, based on Western technology, a move that he reckons would benefit engineering students in Kenya.
“For now, we shall be importing drones from overseas but in the years to come we intend to start our own-drone manufacturing unit,” he said.
According to Mr Gadhia, the drones will be used in humanitarian activities such as distribution of medicines and relief food to remote parts of the country that do not have good infrastructure to accommodate cargo planes.
He said the drones will also be used in traffic management as well as in agricultural activities.
Kenya has purchased a Sh1 billion state-of-the-art military drone from the United States in the latest effort to boost the country’s combat capabilities against terrorism. The drone is due to arrive in the country in September.
The pilotless aircraft, named ScanEagle, will enable Kenyan security organs to conduct real-time surveillance on Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists alongside other major crime scenes inside Kenya’s borders.