Hefty fines await drone operators who violate rules as Kenya clears the remaining hurdles to allow non-military use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Kenya Civil Aviation (Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems Regulations, 2017) show Kenyans will be allowed to acquire drones for sports, private activities and commercial purposes.
Firms and individuals however face a Sh2 million fine or six-month imprisonment for acquiring a drone with military specifications, operating one without a permit, or exporting a Kenyan registered drone without approval.
Manufacturing or assembling a drone without permit or testing one without clearance by security agencies attracts the same penalty, the rules state.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) is working on training standards and testing mechanisms to ensure that integration of drones in conventional airspaces does not risk safety and security.
The newly published regulations allow KCAA to deregister drones without reference to owners “in the interest of national security.”
Operators face Sh1 million fine or six-month imprisonment for failure disclose drone specifications, airworthiness, insurance policy, operating speeds, maximum climb rates and coverage area.
Those who operate drones in a “negligent” or “reckless” manner — flying them over strategic installations, radar sites, communication masts, prisons, police stations, courts of law and scenes of crime — are also liable for Sh1 million fine or six-month imprisonment.
On the other hand, illegally blocking licensed drones attracts a fine of up to Sh5 million or up to six-month imprisonment.
According to the KCAA regulations, an applicant must demonstrate Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) general knowledge, flight performance and navigation skills to be allowed to acquire one.
The KCAA is expected to publish policy and procedure for operating the unmanned aerial vehicles.
“In general sense, Kenya now allows non-military use of drones,” KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe told the Business Daily in an earlier interview. “The aeronautical information circular will be published and thereafter drone operations will be allowed in Kenya.”
Kenya is set to join other African countries which have allowed restricted use of drones.
Kenya permits their use for recreational, private and commercial use while neighbouring Rwanda allows commercial use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.
Tanzania and Malawi have announced plans to begin using them from early next year to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas.
The regulations were published just days after Attorney-General Githu Muigai gave them a node.
All the security agencies under the National Security Advisory Committee had approved the rules in January.
By last year, at least 1,000 applicants had sought permits to operate drones in Kenya for film shooting, sports, commercial and private ventures.
Kenya will hire foreign pilots to man the vehicles because it does not have enough personnel. It will also rely on the expatriates to develop its own capacity.
Under the regulations, civilians are limited to flying drones at a height of not more than 400 feet above ground level to avoid collision with aircraft.
“The drones must be within 50 meters of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the remote piloted aircraft system,” states one of the rules.
Astral Aviation, a Kenya-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.