Technology

Brisk business for drone school founder

drone

A Zipline technician launches a drone to supply medical supplies in Muhanga, Rwanda. FILE PHOTO | AFP

reuters

Summary

  • Dronespace is one of just three in the country offering training to aspiring pilots.
  • A two-week course costs Sh160,000 and includes the fee of a remote pilot's license issued by the government regulator after the course. It is aimed at pilots willing to invest seriously in drones.

In 2017, Nairobi-based producer Tony Mwangi headed to South Africa to retrain as a drone pilot instructor, hoping to get a head start in the industry before it was legal to own and operate drones in Kenya.

Now, a year after the government adopted a law governing the nascent sector, his academy is one of just three in the country offering training to aspiring pilots.

"I wanted it to be professional where people actually fly safely," Mr Mwangi told Reuters as his students' drones buzzed in the background. "When you're a professional pilot it will be easy to get a job."

In many African states, regulation of drone use remains highly restrictive, grounding their potential to help leapfrog infrastructure challenges. Authorities have cited security and safety concerns.

Rwanda is a notable exception. The government has since 2016 permitted companies to harness drone technology for solutions such as transporting blood and medical supplies to remote areas. Last year, Rwanda's police also used drones to monitor the streets during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Though Kenya began drafting regulations in 2016, it did not adopt legislation enabling drone use until last year. Kenya's aviation regulator invited training institutions to apply for accreditation.

Mr Mwangi was ready. He opened his academy, Dronespace, in Nairobi in December.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, business has been brisk.

His two-week course costs Sh160,000 and includes the fee of a remote pilot's license issued by the government regulator after the course. It is aimed at pilots willing to invest seriously in drones.

The steep cost is worth it for Eric Mwambaji, who manages IT operations in Africa for an international company. He says that after doing Dronespace's course "I am looking at the potential of doing mapping, surveying, inspections and so on."