in General Aviation / Features

Conference plots the future direction for drones

Posted 11 December 2017 · Add Comment

Unmanned air vehicles and their potential uses throughout Africa were put under the microscope at the Drones East Africa Conference in Nairobi. Githae Mwaniki reports.

The authorities in East Africa should fast-track regulations to operationalize the drones sector.
That was the overwhelming conclusion of a wide-ranging conference organised by IQPC.
Speakers called for collaboration in sharing drone technology, including maintenance and training, to unlock the opportunities that a vibrant remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) sector could deliver.
Gilbert Kibe, director general of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), opened proceedings by saying that the drone revolution was a reality.
However, he pointed out, the long-term safe use of drones in non-segregated airspace required stakeholder input in the licensing of pilots, technologies for avoid and detect, and separation standards to all be incorporated in a robust regulatory framework.
He said KCAA started developing RPAS regulations in 2015 with wide stakeholder participation, guided by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendations. This had led to the draft regulations that were due to be enacted into law, which would ensure safe and expeditious coordination of RPAS operations so that they didn’t compromise national security, or infringe on privacy of individuals and organizations.
He believed RPAS operations would bring a wide range of opportunities and indicated that KCAA would work with stakeholders to support research and standards development to address all operational concerns, including safety, physical and cyber security. He added that the effective and safe implementation of the regulations would create new opportunities and jobs.
Kibe concluded by saying that that KCAA had instituted a RPAS safety team tasked with the responsibility of promotion of safe operations, offering critical linkages with the public through provision of education on flight safety, and serving as a resource base for drone enthusiasts groups and aircraft hobby clubs.
Many speakers pointed out the number of different uses and the potential for good that drones would have throughout the region.
Steven Muchiri, CEO of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, said drones could be of critical use in agriculture, especially in mapping, inventory and crop scouting. He gave examples of how they were used in monitoring vineyards in South Africa and farm surveys in various parts of East Africa.
Joel Kaiser, regional director, WeRobotics, explained how drones had been used in Tanzania for mapping Zanzibar Island and other large-scale projects. He also said a firm in Rwanda was using drones to deliver medical supplies across the country.
Maria Stefanopoulos, production manager ABC News, outlined how drones were used in news gathering to open up unreachable areas like remote game parks and reserves. She gave examples of the technology used in Nepal and Tanzania, including drone use enriching live TV coverage.
Dieudonne Harahangazwe, senior scientist at International Potato Center, outlined how his organization has been using drones in evaluating drought tolerance, estimating yield and pest and disease control.
Bernard Muhwezi, who works for the Uganda Bureau of Statistics geo information services division, discussed drone use in his country, including in agriculture, media, public utility management – water and sewerage, health campaigns and in mapping to resolve land conflicts.
He called for closer collaboration to deal with the challenge of cost and security of drone operations but added that, prospectively, drones could be used in assisting to manage drought, landslides, public control and in the large-scale mapping in Uganda and East African region.
Grady Stone, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) senior representative for Africa, talked about his organisation’s basic approach to regulating RPAS. After discussing regulatory provisions, he reiterated how drones were not allowed to operate in national airports.
That was a point picked up by Gueye Sidy, IATA’s regional director for airports, passengers, cargo and security, who highlighted industry concerns about unmanned air vehicle (UAV) access to the airspace, plus the safety and security, civil aviation spectrum, and regulatory challenges.
He talked about safety incidents involving UAVs, including a drone collision at London Heathrow in June 2014, a series of near misses with aircraft and drone in the US between June and November 2014, and Dubai Airport having to be closed for four hours due to illegal drone operations in January 2015.
Finally, Brian Verport, international head of IToo Special Risks Ltd, outlined how UAVs are insured and discussed the growing use of the technology. He said that ever since July 2015, when the UAV regulations were enacted in South Africa, the number of qualified remote pilots had grown from 38 to 380, with an average of 50 more qualifying every month.

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