Soon drones will be buzzing in Kenyan airspace

Kenya has finally approved regulations for drones, becoming the second country after Rwanda in the region to embrace commercial use of Aerial Unmanned Vehicles (AUVs).

The move comes as a boost to firms, which have been waiting for the green light to import drones without worrying about legal implications.

The aviation regulator, Kenya Civil Aviation (KCAA), says the approval was made last week on Monday after the agency met with the top security organs to discuss draft regulations.

KCAA Director General Mr Gilbert Kibe said the gazette legal notice together with an Aeronautical Information Circular will be published as soon as official notification from the meeting is received.

“The policy procedures and regulations for remotely piloted aircraft systems, better known as the drones, have been approved,” said Mr Kibe.

He said after gazetting, drones operations will be allowed in Kenya.

Hundreds of drones imported before the approval of the regulations have so far been confiscated by the Kenya Revenue Authority, according to KCAA.

Astral Aviation, a Kenyan-based logistics firm, already has plans in place to open a drone airport at Kapese Airstrip in Lokichar as it moves to tap proceeds from oil exploration in the region.

The firm said the facility, the first in Africa, will be ready by February next year. 

The firm has opened a subsidiary — Astral Aerial Solution — that will mainly deal with the operations of the drones, not only in Kenya but also in Rwanda where the rule for operating the machines have been approved.

The firm’s chief executive officer Sanjeev Gadhia, said the firm intends to use drones in moving oil and gas equipment from the central logistics hub to the fields.

“We are going to open the Drone Airport in Kapese as we target to offer logistics solutions to oil drilling firms in Lokichar and we are happy that the approval on regulations have been made,” said Mr Gadhia.

READ: Kenya gets war drones it bought from America in 2015

Two tonnes of cargo

The Fly Ox drone, which is one of the gadgets that the firm intends to buy, can carry up to two tonnes of cargo and can travel for 1,200 kilometres, making it ideal for the oil and gas operations given that the fields are far apart.

The firm will also buy drones for security surveillance and create a virtual highway between Kapese and Eldoret to monitor the movement of crude oil loaded onto trucks.

Mr Gadhia said the firm has set aside Sh50 million ($500,000) to start drone operations as early as this year.

At least 1,000 applicants are seeking regulatory approvals to operate drone-based transport services in Kenya, hinting to high demand for the robotic aircraft.

Firms want to use the UAVs for film shooting, relief services and other commercial purposes, according to the regulator.

Non-military use of drones had been restricted in the country due to lack of a legal framework.

Among other things, the proposed regulations require commercial drone owners to have security clearance from the Ministry of Defence and have trained pilots.

READ: Kenya to employ foreign drone pilots in readiness for building local capacity

400 feet limit

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 approvals were made by the committee chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and comprising all security agencies including the Kenya Defence Forces and Kenya Police Service, who form the National Advisory Committee.

The KCAA drafted the regulations after a series of meetings with wananchi to discuss the draft rules.

Kenya will hire foreign drone pilots to man drones because currently the country does not have enough personnel to control drones and will have to rely on expatriates.

Mr Kibe said Kenya will have to import pilots as a short-term measure as it prepares to build its own capacity.