Kenya is soon to allow the flying of drones for commercial use, an action that appears contrary to other African countries. Ghana penalises unregistered drone use with up to 30 years in jail and Nigerian operators must acquire permits from the National Security Advisor as well as the local aviation authority, costing up to $4000.
In Kenya however, the effective ban of unmanned aerial vehicles by anyone but the military for the last two years will soon be lifted. Draft regulations by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) have been approved by security officials, the details of which will be released soon.
A complex process that required approval from both the Ministry of Defence and the KCAA saw hobbyists and techpreneurs face a long arduous task against vague restrictions put in place by the regulators. Despite growing interest at a civilian level, applicants are almost never approved, despite the clear benefit of drone application to areas such as aid relief, agricultural surveys and e-commerce, said Moses Gichanga of Kenya-based tech consultancy Autunomous Systems Research.
Says Gichanga, “This will actually be the first time that drones are legal in Kenya. Everybody who’s been flying up to now has been flying illegally.”
Early drafts of the new regulations (based on the International Civil Aviation Organization’s drone policy) have seen requirements for approval for commercial drone entities by the Ministry of Defence, along with employment of trained pilots. Individual owners can operate drones as long as they are registered and operate as part of a club or association. Prior to these yet to finalised changes, penalties for unauthorized drone use include a fine of 500,000 Kenyan shillings (about $5,000) and a jail term of up to three months. A final version of the regulations is yet to be released.
Definition of what constitutes a drone is also to be clarified, as some enthusiasts build their own. Weight, fuel use limits and flight heights must also be defined. Gichanga concludes, “It may end up being a hindrance. It’s sort of really really not clear how this is going to play out.”