Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) in Kenya are just a step away from getting legal status. The head of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority this week submitted proposed regulations on the use of drones to the National Security Advisory Committee for approval. He expects the operations to start in a month’s time, which means he is almost sure the committee’s feedback will be positive.
This development is almost opposite to the one the agency gave last year to drone operators. First, was a cease and desist order to anyone operating a non-military UAV in the Kenyan airspace. Second was a directive to whomever wished to get licensed to do so from the Department of Defence; a statement synonymous to saying you can pack your drones away and let them gather dust.
This response was attributed to the prevailing security situation in the country after Al Shabaab stepped up attacks.
Drones are commonly viewed through security lens because part of their history include an dalliance with some militaries in the world and their use of the airspace, which is considered a military facility and the use of the airspace by other players.
Then most visible drone operations in Kenya have been the lighter versions mostly operated by photographers and videographers. However other outfits had acquired, or had plans to acquire them after approaching the government agency to shed light on the status of their use in the country.
Ol Pejeta conservancy approached the government in 2014 for permission to use a drone for increased surveillance in the fight against poaching after successfully conducting tests. Their application was rejected.
Similarly, the Kenya Wildlife Service intends to introduce drones in 52 national parks to amp up its fight against poaching, and to collect data as well. The project, valued at $103 million is funded by France, the Netherlands, the US and Canada.
The KWS and other conservancies in the country use aircraft for surveillance and it is believed drones are a cheaper option to aircrafts.
Kilimall, an online marketplace had planned to use drones for deliveries in Nairobi.
Other than filming, delivery and conservation, UAVs can be deployed in large scale farming, among other sectors.
Once the guidelines are in place, Kenya will join Rwanda, South Africa and Ghana in allowing drones into their airspaces.
South Africa is considered as one of the countries with the most progressive guidelines on drones.
Rwanda has been all the rave in recent talks regarding drones after it was reported that it will establish a “drone port”. Drones were expected to be deployed in delivery of blood and medicine as from last month.
AeroShutter, which describes itself as Ghana’s first drone powered creative agency, is a a regular in mentions on drone focused companies in the continent.
Drone use, especially in the field of pictures, had started growing into a more common feature in the country before the order came from the government. African SkyCam, a drone journalism based outfit were early entrants into the space. Some photographers and videographers, like Mwangi Kirubi, a popular Nairobi based photographer temporarily ceased using them as they awaited further directives from the government.
However, some owners continued and it is almost easy to come across an image taken by a drone mounted camera online. Last year, as I followed the burial of the son of a prominent Kenyan on TV, I could see a huge UAV hovering over the mourners who included the Cabinet Secretary for Defence.
This could point to a higher figure of UAVs interested entities and individuals than the around 1000 applications that have been made to the KCAA.
The government’s latest step is not totally surprising as KCAA had released less comprehensive guidelines on the use of UAVs in the country in March. These included the restriction of drones to 400 feet and less, registering in clubs registered by the agency and getting minimum third party insurance.
Last year, some UAV enthusiasts around Nairobi had coalesced around a loose organization that resulted in the formation of the Kenya Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Association, whose plans included engaging the government in matters policy. The community has grown and has recently organized events has members sharing on their latest projects on their facebook page.
featured image: UAV enthusiasts playing with their gadgets during a meetup for people interested in drones at the iHub sometimes last year.( iHub/Abu Okari)