Unlocking drone potential in East Africa’s aviation

East Africa is projected to be one of the fastest-growing regions on the continent. Despite this development, its infrastructure ranks behind that of southern and western Africa across a range of indicators.

The current gaps in infrastructure are vast, amounting to billions of dollars annually, providing a strong impetus to seek new generational complementary solutions that leverage the field of technology and innovation enabling solutions for travel, transport, security, and supply chains.

According to a study by the East African Business Council on the costs and benefits of open skies, liberalisation between Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda could result in an additional 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million per year in GDP.

There is an opportunity to innovate so that the market is open even as technology continues to grow and play a larger role across consumers.

Having taken a leaf out of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Single African Air Transport Market in place, both of which are aimed at economic growth and the liberalisation of the air transport in the region and across Africa, drones provide an enabling environment to accelerate innovation, knowledge exchange and fast track solutions to address current gaps.

We cannot anticipate the full range of industrial drone applications yet. Some are obvious: Supplying commercial drone delivery by shipping life-saving medical supplies to remote areas as we have seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo where drones have been used to increase equitable access to vaccines in remote health centres.

Or leveraging on drone technologies towards managing the spread of the Covid-19 virus in Rwanda, as great examples. In Kisumu, Zipline signed an agreement with the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) to use Zipline’s warehousing facility to store and deliver Covid-19 vaccines, blood products, and other medical commodities to Kisumu county health facilities.

On the 84 remote islands of Kalangala District on the surface of Lake Victoria in Uganda, medical experts are tackling one of the regions worst provincial HIV crises with the help of cargo drones. However, many entities and industries are yet to discover specific applications for drones within East Africa.

The impact of the pandemic has been staggering but this has somewhat created an opportunity for us as a region to learn about drone capabilities.

Within the media space, drones are making headway in getting breathtaking shots that were almost impossible to capture in the past. When Mount Nyiragongo erupted in May 2021, drones showed the chaos of the eruption.

Furthermore, African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Africa, and Tunisia have adopted drone technology to enhance their national security.

In the agriculture industry, we have seen drones as key soldiers in the fight against the fall armyworm, which had threatened the continent’s breadbasket while closer home, Tanzania recently used drones in the fight against illegal fishing across its coastline.

Globally, we have seen mega companies like DHL, Amazon, and Google developing drones to automate deliveries.

According to the Global South Africa Small Drones Market; South Africa is expected to lead the African continent in deploying drones for operations such as surveillance, traffic management, search and rescue, forest fire detection – among others by 2025.

In Kenya, Fahari Aviation has positioned itself at the forefront of exploring advanced future technologies in aviation and at the same time promoting safe and secure usage of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in Kenya within a range of capabilities including crop spraying, aerial inspections, surveillance, and mapping.

During the National Wildlife Census coordinated by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) a national baseline survey of wildlife populations and their distribution in Kenya, Fahari Aviation used drones and unmanned aircraft in supporting vast ecosystems and wildlife conservation efforts – a demonstration of the unlimited opportunities presented by drones.

To capitalize on this period of growth there is need to establish more public-private partnerships, invest in research, development and strengthen legislation in realizing the true potential and positive impact of drone technologies.

In addition to building credibility among potential customers, it is also critical in the realization of African Union’s Agenda 2063 of creating a united, prosperous, and self-reliant Africa.

Regulations in East Africa do not allow the operations of a drone without proper documentation. Dialogue within the industry has allowed gradual progress towards adjusting regulations and setting the right level of oversight for unmanned drones.

Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania are actively seeking to re-regulate, control and selectively facilitate commercial drone activity within their airspace.

As the regulatory environment eases, more players will develop the base technology that powers drones, creating more momentum in the market to enable countries like South Sudan and Somalia establish drone laws within their airspaces.

Over the next few years, East Africa will begin to see businesses put industrial drones to work monitoring facilities, tracking shipments, and perhaps even delivering groceries to customers at their doorstep. The next several years will be pivotal in gaining a competitive edge in the region and drones offer this opportunity.

Hawkins Musili, General Manager Fahari Aviation

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