Wanna drone in Kenya? Not so fast!
In January 2015, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, who are mandated with regulation and oversight of aviation and safety in Kenya, issued a directive banning all use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Kenya. Rightfully so, because many had been spotted flying in public and private functions without any regulation on when, how and who was allowed to use them. The ban was put in place as a security measure and to give the government time to set up a regulatory framework for the use of drones in Kenya.
The need for regulations was very clear. The number of drones buzzing in the skies meant Kenya’s airspace had been turned into a ‘highway’ without a traffic act. Rapid advances in computing had made drones accessible to anyone with a couple of thousand shillings to spare in a world where previously only those with mighty millions could afford them.
In September 2016 alone, we had two major players launching consumer drones.
After years of sleeping on the job, action camera manufacturer GoPro launched the Karma, a lacklustre response to offerings from other players in the industry.
Image courtesy GoPro.
Even before the bubbly had been popped at GoPro HQ, DJI ‘leaked’ Mavic photos the same day Karma was launched. The following week, they officially launched their own ‘pocket drone’.
Image courtesy DJI.
Unable to keep up with new drone launches and spikes in ownership figures, governments around the world have taken the road of least resistance and simply banned the use of UAVs in their airspace. This has also turned out to be the least effective and most destructive flight path as it stalls job creation and the inevitable embrace of technology.
More than a year and a half after banning their use so as to come up with legislation to regulate operations, a law is yet to be put in place in Kenya. Not that all has been quiet since.
In March 2016, the KCAA released draft regulations that had been put together by their team of experts and industry professionals. You can download them here.
They were said to be very similar to regulations issued by the South African government.
Kenyans were invited to go through the proposed regulations and on 22nd April 2016, the KCAA invited stakeholders to the East African School of Aviation in Embakasi for a discussion on the proposed draft. Filmmakers, photographers, scientists, transport technology thought leaders, representatives from the Kenya Police, Kenyan companies that manufacture drones and enthusiasts cleared their schedules and gathered to share their opinions on the draft regulations.
In his opening remarks, Mwadimeh Wa’kesho, head of communications at KCAA, noted that technology doesn’t wait for anybody. “We needed to be technologically astute.” He pointed out that regulations that were being developed in Kenya needed to be future proof and up to international standards.
EASA Director Dr Mugambi Nchebere read a speech by the KCAA Director General which addressed the key concerns for safety and security. He clarified that regulations were being put in place not to hinder operations but to create a safe operating space for those who want to use UAVs. “KCAA want to make rules while consulting so as not to create rules that will hinder operations.”
Major Rtd. Mwanzia, a former director of military intelligence, was happy that KCAA had involved the public to participate in coming up with the regulations. He said they were working hard to create the best systems in the world, starting with the regulations.
Keystone Aketch, who was leading the regulations task force, informed those present that they had been working since the beginning of the year to come up with the draft regulations.
Six months after that meeting and eighteen months since the ban was put in place, flying UAVs is still considered illegal in Kenya.
Meanwhile, across the border in Rwanda, the use of UAVs has been embraced by everyone including the President. Last week, Rwanda launched the first drones in the world that will be used for the delivery of medical supplies.
The life-saving drones, called Zips, are capable of making 150 deliveries a day. The drones can travel 150km at a speed of 70km per hour.
And to show you how serious they are about embracing technology, the world’s first drone airport is planned for Rwanda!
While Rwanda leaps ahead of it’s neighbours and soars above the rest of the world, Kenya is grounded on the tarmac, with national security concerns being the main hindrance to UAVs taking to the skies. We are country at war with terrorists and there is the fear that in the wrong hands, UAVs could be used to cause injury and destruction on a massive scale. Interestingly, where cars have been used to ferry explosives, no blanket ban exists restricting their use.
Government agencies on the other hand, while realising the importance of UAVs, have contracted private companies to conduct aerial filming and photography using drones in Kenya.
This was shot during the historic ivory burn on 30th April 2016 after the President and other dignitaries had left. Why a foreign company was used still baffles me.
And this one was shot at Safaricom Stadium Kasarani during the launch of the Jubilee Party on 9th September 2016 at which President Uhuru Kenyatta was present.
These are clear signs that all is not lost for UAVs in Kenya. The nationwide ban may still be on but enthusiasts and professionals are still taking to the skies, albeit with a lot of caution.
Unconfirmed reports indicate more than 5 UAVs have been confiscated from people who were found flying and are currently in the custody of the Department of Defence. Many more have been denied entry into Kenya at JKIA after being found in passengers’ baggage.
On their part, KCAA, who are in charge of policing Kenya’s airspace, have been very quiet on the status of the legislation. Several emails and calls to them prior to publishing this article have gone unanswered. They gave us email@example.com as the designated email for all things UAV. Either they lost the password to access it or the reply button is missing from their email app.
Before the legislation is put in place and passed by Parliament in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and other countries will continue forging ahead in the use of UAVs in their countries – creating jobs and saving lives – while security fears stall progress in Kenya.