Attorney General Githu Muigai has approved a legal framework for operating drones, pushing Kenya closer to allowing non-military use of the remotely piloted aircraft.
Prof Muigai’s nod allows the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority’s (KCAA) to publish its regulations, policy and procedure for operating the unmanned aerial vehicles in the country.
“In general sense, Kenya now allows non-military use of drones,” said KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe. “With the official communication, the gazette notice together with aeronautical information circular will be published and thereafter drone operations will be allowed in Kenya.”
The drones are preferred by firms and organisations whose operations stretch to remote locations. In the region, Rwanda has already permitted the commercial use of drones while Tanzania and Malawi have announced plans to begin using drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas from early next year.
Keystone Aketch, an inspector at the KCAA, however, said individuals and firms seeking to operate drones in Kenya will have to wait a little longer.
“The approval of the law is a crucial step but the KCAA will have to lay down procedures for operating drones, which will determine among other things the cost of licensing,” said Mr Aketch.
The KCAA has been waiting for the AG to approve regulations presented to the State Law Office earlier in the year to start licensing those who want to operate.
The National Security Advisory Committee approved the draft regulations on drones in January. The latest official nod comes as good news to hundreds of applicants who have been waiting for regulations to be approved to start using them for commercial and leisure purposes.
At least 1,000 applicants as at last year were seeking approval to operate drone-based transport services in Kenya, hinting at high demand for the robotic aircraft.
Companies 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 due to a lack of a legal framework. The proposed regulations require commercial drone owners to have security clearance from the Ministry of Defence and have trained pilots, among other things.
The KCAA says there is a need to define training standards and testing mechanism to ensure that integration of drones in conventional airspaces does not risk safety and security.
Kenya will hire foreign pilots to man drones because currently the country does not have enough personnel to control drones and will have to rely on expatriates before developing its own capacity.
Civilians are limited to flying drones at a height of not more than 400 feet to avoid conflict with aircraft.
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.
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.