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


A drone: Over 1,000 companies and individuals have so far applied for licences to use drones for either commercial or recreation purposes. PHOTO | AFP

Kenya will hire foreign drone pilots when the regulations that are currently before the highest security office are approved.

The country does not have a single pilot for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and it will initially have to rely on expatriates.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director - general Gilbert Kibe said Kenya will have to import the pilots as a short term measure as it prepares to build its own capacity.

The new draft regulations are currently with the National Security Advisory Committee for approval before the drones are commercialised in the country.

“The regulations have the provision for establishment of about 600 drone schools in the country, but as a short term measure we may have to import drone experts initially when the new laws are approved,” said Mr Kibe.
Mr Kibe said the drone schools will be established by the private sector.

Over 1,000 companies and individuals have so far applied for licences to use drones for either commercial or recreation purposes.

Currently, it is illegal to possess one. Kenya Revenue Authority is confiscating drones that were being imported in the country illegally.

“KRA is holding over 1,000 drones currently because they were being shipped into the country illegally. However, they will be released to the owners once the regulations are in place,” Mr Kibe said.

He said the regulations will be approved before the end of December, paving the way for commercialisation of the vehicles in Kenya.

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 the rules will attract a maximum fine of Sh500,000 or a jail term not exceeding three months, the proposed regulations state.

Kenyan based firms are now eying the Rwandan market following the move by Kigali to approve drone regulations which are being used for medical purposes.

Astral Aviation chief executive Sannjeev Gadhia said they have applied for permission to use drones in Rwanda and are awaiting approval by the government.

“We have applied for permission and will launch drones their as soon as it is approved,’ said Mr Gadhia.

Astral plans to open a drone airport at Kapese Airstrip in Lokichar to serve the oil and gas sector.

The firm said that the airport will be ready by next February and urged the government to speed up the approval of regulations.

The firm has opened a subsidiary, Astral Aerial Solution, which will mainly deal with operations of drones.

The Fly Ox, one of the drones that the firm intends to buy, has ability to carry up to two tonnes of cargo and travel for 1,200 kilometres making it ideal for oil and gas operations given that fields are far from each other.

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 on trucks.