Flying Drones in Kenya
There’s been a lot of interest in the operation of unmanned aerial aircraft in Kenya in the recent past and especially this week, with two mainstream media outlets publishing different drone-related stories on the same day. And for this reason, my long break from blogging has come to an end.
For starters, the word ‘drone’ immediately shifts one’s mind to the US’s operations against terrorists so I’ll rightfully call them UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). I’ll also focus on UAVs used for filmmaking and photography.
From what I’ve found online, UAVs started hitting Kenyan news in August 2013. Back then, just like now, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority didn’t have legislation to govern their use in Kenya. And as per the Daily Nation article, they still don’t.
Since 2013, many people have acquired UAVs and are putting them to great use. One of the best videos I’ve seen is from African SkyCam, showcasing Kenya’s beauty.
A great video, but according to KCAA, illegally done as per the statement from their Communications Manager Mutia Mwandikwa. “It is true that we don’t have regulations. So the authority is not licensing any drones at the moment. In fact, any drone or small aircraft seen at public functions is being operated illegally,” he told the Nation. (Daily Nation Online, Wednesday 13th January 2015)
One of the main concerns as the KCAA works to set up legislation for UAV use is the invasion of privacy. In my opinion, you can get more invasion of privacy with a 70-200mm lens than a UAV. Why? UAVs are very noisy. And because most have fixed 5mm lenses (very wide), there isn’t much detail one can get from even 30 metres above ground. There are more professional UAVs to which you can attach a DSLR and even with these, and the noise they emit when flying, it is hard to spy on someone without their knowledge.
The beauty of using a UAV is the fresh perspective you get when shooting from the air, something you wouldn’t get when shooting from the ground. UAVs have truly helped us appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
At Murchison Falls in Uganda, the 50-metre wide Nile squeezes through a 7-metre crack in the ground. It is such a beautiful sight that it has been described as the most spectacular event on the Nile’s 7,000km stretch. You can really appreciate it’s beauty in the images above.
The one below is of the same place, taken from ground level.
Murchison Falls from ground level.
Coming up with legislation for the use of UAVs is more difficult than mastering to fly one. It is however very necessary. I believe people with Model Ts were in the same predicament we find ourselves in today. The car was invented before there was laws that governed the operations of motor vehicles. Can you imagine driving today with no highway code or traffic rules? Now you see how important the legislation is.
Even as we await legislation, restrictions will need to be put in place on where one can and can’t fly. One way this has been achieved in more developed markets is programming the UAVs not to fly in the restricted areas. Because they use GPS, this has been easy to achieve and Kenyan restrictions wouldn’t be hard to include in future UAV firmware updates.
Malaba looking into Tororo at sunset.
Source of the Nile at Jinja.
Kariunga, Nanyuki, with Mt Kenya in the horizon. The two images above were shot on my first UAV assignment. You can read more about it here.
Kisite Marine Park.
And finally, Lake Natron. This was quite an experience. Read about it here.
Two years after UAVs started being used for filmmaking and photography in Kenya, we are still awaiting regulations from the KCAA. This is a very long time to be barking at UAV users, none of whom want to be bitten with a fine of Kshs50,000/- like this guy.
After attending a Drone Workshop at iHub today, it is clear that UAVs are already being put to various use in Kenya, from photography to filming to surveying and 3D mapping. And those using them vary from enthusiasts and professional pilots, to engineers building their own airframes and navigation systems from scratch! We’re all in agreement that the deafening silence from the KCAA hurts the industry, and go about our business looking over our backs wondering if we’ll end up in the cooler. We are now working to form an association that will unite us all and bring self regulation into the industry, while working with the KCAA to come up with legislation that could easily be adopted by other countries.
The least we’d like from the KCAA is an official statement on their website on the progress made in putting legislation in place, instead of extending the 2-year silence we’ve had.
So until the legislation is effected, my costly investment will be gathering dust and I won’t be able to bring you photos and videos that will allow you to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
————————– 30 MARCH 2015 UPDATE ————————–
Through a public notice placed in Kenyan newspapers in February, the KCAA instructed all UAV operations to cease until approvals are received from the Ministry of Defense and authorisation given by the KCAA. To receive DoD approvals, write to The Principal Secretary, Ministry of Defense, PO Box 40666, 00100 Nairobi. Applications for authorisation should be sent to The Director General, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, PO Box 30163, 00100 Nairobi. Authorisations for flying UAVs will be considered by KCAA only after approvals by the Ministry of Defense.