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Global aviation agency seeks tough rules on drone owners to cut risks

Airline operators call for strict measures to curb accidents due to careless use of drones. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Airline operators call for strict measures to curb accidents due to careless use of drones. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for severe penalties and strict regulation to help mitigate the risk that unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) pose to the airline industry.

The IATA, an umbrella body of 275 airlines across the world including Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ, says the increased ownership and use of drones for recreational or commercial purposes need to be controlled by aviation regulators.

The agency’s call comes at a time when the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) is set to roll out rules governing the use of drones in which firms and individuals face a Sh2 million fine or six-month jail term for contravening the law.

“Many people don’t understand the risk drones pose to manned aviation,” Rob Eagles, IATA director for air traffic management and infrastructure, said during a briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Regulations enacted around the use of drones need to serve as an active deterrent so that people using them know the risk they bear for using them irresponsibly.”

Mr Eagles did not directly address whether the fine proposed by the KCAA was adequate and a sufficient “deterrent”, instead saying the damage and cost caused by a drone strike in an airport “would be greater than that (Sh2 million)”.

He added that a drone strike had the potential of causing death, damaging expensive aircraft as well as delaying flights and inconveniencing passengers at the airport.

In October, a drone struck a commercial plane while it was nearing the Jean Lesage International Airport in Québec City, Canada.

The Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems Regulations, 2017 will allow Kenyans to acquire drones for sports, private activities and commercial purposes.

Acquisition of drones with military specifications, operating one without a permit, or exporting a Kenyan registered drone without approval will see firms and individuals fined and risk jail.

Manufacturing or assembling a drone without a permit or testing one without clearance by security agencies attracts the same penalty, the rules – which recently received the green light from the Attorney General — state.

The IATA, however, says drones will be a game changer in the airline industry going forward, with opportunities for use in bird and wildlife control, aircraft inspection, cargo inventory sorting as well as airport surveillance.