It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a drone... UAVS take off in re­gion’s skies

While they are rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery in an ar­ray of fields, reg­u­la­tion still re­mains un­charted ter­rain

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - By AL­LAN OLINGO

As the use of com­mer­cial drones gains mo­men­tum in Africa with aid agen­cies and agri­cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions fast tak­ing up the tech­nol­ogy to stream­line their work, the lack of reg­u­la­tions as well as se­cu­rity and safety re­main key con­cerns.

From the de­liv­ery of emer­gency med­i­cal sup­plies and blood sam­ples in Rwanda and Malawi to gas ex­plo­ration in Tan­za­nia and Mozambique, the un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVS) are prov­ing ex­tremely use­ful. How­ever, only South Africa and Rwanda have proper laws on the use of com­mer­cial drones within their airspace.

Civil avi­a­tion author­i­ties are strug­gling to keep the un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles out of the way of air­craft and in­cor­po­rate them within

their air nav­i­ga­tion and sur­veil­lance sys­tems.

“African op­er­a­tors are try­ing to ad­dress cur­rent con­cerns. Coun­tries should also in­sist on drone pi­lot train­ing as part of reg­u­la­tions,” said Ce­line Hour­cade, the head of cargo trans­porta­tion at the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion.

Ms Hour­cade added that the as­so­ci­a­tion is work­ing with the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion, air nav­i­ga­tion agen­cies and gov­ern­ments in for­mu­lat­ing a reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, Rwanda opened its skies to com­mer­cial drones, barely two years af­ter South Africa ap­proved its own drone reg­u­la­tions. Rwanda’s re­vised reg­u­la­tions, are the first in the re­gion, were ap­proved in Jan­uary. They out­line the use of UAVS in com­plex com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions.

“The laws al­low drones to fly above the visual line of sight and per­mit the use of highly au­to­mated drones,” said the Min­is­ter of State in charge of Trans­port in the Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture Jean de Dieu Uwi­hanganye.

Kenya, Tan­za­nia

Kenya and Tan­za­nia are still strug­gling to put the nec­es­sary laws in place. Two months ago, Kenya’s par­lia­ment re­fused to en­dorse the Re­motely Pi­loted Air­craft Sys­tems Reg­u­la­tions 2017 over safety and pri­vacy con­cerns.

“Drones are now op­er­at­ing il­le­gally in Kenya. The tragedy is that we can’t do much about it be­cause we don’t have any laws to en­force. My pri­mary con­cern is safety, par­tic­u­larly around air­ports,” said Kenya Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity di­rec­tor-gen­eral Gil­bert Kibe.

Nairobi now hopes the reg­u­la­tions will be in place by the end of the year af­ter ad­dress­ing con­cerns raised by Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

In March, KCAA is­sued a gazette no­tice on drone reg­u­la­tions that seeks to among other things, es­tab­lish a registry to con­trol the own­er­ship and use of the un­manned ve­hi­cles.

“All drone op­er­a­tors will have to reg­is­ter with us and ob­tain a per­mit to fly. We will need to know how many drones are in the coun­try, what pur­pose they are for and who their op­er­a­tors’ sake,” said Mr Kibe.

The gazetted reg­u­la­tions, if en­dorsed by par­lia­ment, will al­low Kenyans to ac­quire drones for sports, pri­vate ac­tiv­i­ties and com­mer­cial pur­poses. Those who wish to im­port, own or op­er­ate drones will also be ex­pected to ap­ply to KCAA and pay a fee. The drone pi­lots, who must have a li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance, will also be lim­ited to 400 feet above ground level.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions also ban fly­ing drones over or around strate­gic in­stal­la­tions and radar sites un­less one has a per­mit from KCAA. The agency had also pro­posed a ban on im­por­ta­tion of mil­i­tary-grade drones by civil­ians, while those wishing to bring in com­mer­cial drones would have to no­tify the avi­a­tion agency in writ­ing and ob­tain a regis­tra­tion cer­tifi­cate.

In Tan­za­nia, even though the im­por­ta­tion of drones is al­lowed, one must get ex­press au­thor­ity from the Tan­za­nia Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity (TCAA) to bring them in, in­clud­ing a user-pi­lot cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from ei­ther of the seven ac­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tions.

“We are en­gag­ing stake­hold­ers on the use of drones in our airspace. We be­lieve that they are im­por­tant for our eco­nomic development. The reg­u­la­tions we are propos­ing will in­clude de­tec­tion and in­ter­cep­tion mech­a­nisms,” TCAA di­rec­tor gen­eral Hamza Jo­hari said.

Mr Jo­hari said that the sur- veil­lance and de­tec­tion mech­a­nism will en­sure safety of other airspace users, and also al­low author­i­ties to in­ter­cept UAVS that go against the reg­u­la­tions.

Cur­rently, Dar es Salaam and Ki­gali only al­low day­time op­er­a­tion of drones. Drone op­er­a­tors in Tan­za­nia must also in­sure the air­craft. TCAA has also clas­si­fied the re­motely pi­loted air­craft sys­tem (RPAS) into three: Light (un­der seven kg); medium (be­tween seven and 150 kg) and large (over 150kg). How­ever, for the medium and large RPAS, one must get a spe­cial per­mit from the Min­istry of De­fence.

To boost safety, drones are not al­lowed within a five-kilo­me­tre ra­dius of Tan­za­nia’s in­ter­na­tional air­ports in Dar es Salaam and Kil­i­man­jaro, and within a three kilo­me­tre ra­dius of do­mes­tic air­ports. Drones are also banned in na­tional parks. Drone pi­lots must also have a spe­cial per­mit from the civil­ian avi­a­tion au­thor­ity to fly over pop­u­lated ar­eas and crowds.

Rwanda

In Rwanda, op­er­a­tors are re­quired to pay for the drones’ in­sur­ance and hold a valid re­mote op­er­a­tor’s cer­tifi­cate is­sued by the Rwanda Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity. Op­er­a­tors must also hold a pi­lot’s li­cence and a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate. The li­cence, like Tan­za­nia, must have been re­ceived from a drone train­ing in­sti­tu­tion from Europe, South Africa or the US.

Ki­gali too, does not al­low the use of drones around strate­gic in­stal­la­tions in­clud­ing air­ports, mil­i­tary bases and radar sites. There are also plans to in­cor­po­rate drones within the coun­try’s traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tem later this year.

“We are plan­ning ca­pac­ity build­ing, drone pi­lot train­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of re­gional drone op­er­a­tors in Rwanda,” said Mr Uwi­hanganye.

Through its avi­a­tion au­thor­ity, Ki­gali al­lows a max­i­mum al­ti­tude of 328 feet for fly­ing drones, with a max­i­mum take­off weight of 25 kilo­grammes. To pro­tect its tra­di­tional avi­a­tion play­ers, the drones can­not be op­er­ated within a six-kilo­me­tre ra­dius of its air­ports with­out

op­er­a­tions, with its civil avi­a­tion laws de­mand­ing a 90-day no­tice of in­tent to im­port into its ter­ri­tory.

It also em­pow­ers its De­part­ment of De­fence to have some clear­ance du­ties in cer­tain drone op­er­a­tions as it seeks to ramp up its safety laws. Like the rest of its neigh­bours, its amended civil avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions also de­mands a pi­lot train­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and bans UAV’S over crowds and cities.

South Africa, which is now be­ing used as a bench­mark for suc­cess­ful in­fu­sion of drones into its airspace and nav­i­ga­tion man­age­ment sys­tem, has man­aged to ad­dress some of the con­cerns African gov­ern­ments have been hav­ing in try­ing to reg­u­late this new avi­a­tion plat­form.

Last week, dur­ing the Africa Civil Air Nav­i­ga­tion Services Or­gan­i­sa­tion (CANSO) con­fer­ence in Mom­basa, avi­a­tion play­ers raised na­tional se­cu­rity, pri­vacy, ac­ci­dents, own­er­ship and train­ing as some of the con­cerns that have held back African gov­ern­ments in reg­u­lat­ing the use of drones within their airspaces. An­other chal­lenge is the in­te­gra­tion of re­motely pi­loted air­craft sys­tems into cur­rent and evolv­ing air traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tems, while en­sur­ing the safety and ef­fi­ciency of avi­a­tion op­er­a­tions.

“It is in­deed time that we started hold­ing dis­cus­sions on drones as part of the air traf­fic man­age­ment; this will ad­dress the safety and na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns that sev­eral gov­ern­ments and stake­hold­ers have had, which has slowed down reg­u­la­tions in this new sec­tor,” said CANSO deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral, Si­mon Hoc­quard.

Pic­ture: File

Drones are used to spray pes­ti­cides on a farm in Bozhou, cen­tral China’s An­hui prov­ince. In Africa, only South Africa and Rwanda have proper laws on the use of com­mer­cial drones within their airspaces.

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