Africa Becoming a Hotbed of Civil Drone Operations

 - January 2, 2018, 10:29 AM

While drones have become ubiquitous around the globe, Africa in particular has embraced the technology for its utility in supporting aid and business operations.

Aid agencies now use UAVs to deliver emergency medical supplies in various African countries while cargo operators deploy them to supply equipment for oil-and-gas companies engaged in exploration projects in remote areas.

“Africa is leading the way in exploiting and implementing the use of drones,” International Air Transport Association (IATA) head of cargo transportation Celine Hourcade told AIN.

Aid agencies use UAVs to deliver medical equipment, medicines, and blood samples in remote parts of the continent. UNICEF, in collaboration with the UPS Foundation, uses Zipline UAVs to transport vaccines, maternal medicines, and blood samples in Malawi, Tanzania, and Lesetho. In Lesotho, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) transports blood samples for faster analysis and diagnosis of HIV.  

Hourcade said the Rwandese government has championed the use of drone technologies. The first country in Africa to build a small drone port, Rwanda uses UAVs to transport medical supplies in remote parts of the country known for its thousands of hills. The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority has established a regulatory framework for remotely piloted aircraft.

Meanwhile, a Kenyan cargo airline, Astral Aviation, recently established a dedicated drone subsidiary, Astral Aerial Solutions, to facilitate the company’s expansion into the drone niche market in Kenya and in Rwanda.

Astral Aviation CEO Sanjeev Gadhia told AIN that the division would develop a drone hub in oil-rich Kenya this year to cater to the petroleum industry’s logistical needs. Plans call for Astral Aerial Solutions to employ a fleet of FlyOx I amphibian drones, designed by Singular Aircraft to haul up to two metric tons of equipment over 1,200 kilometers. The company also plans to acquire a fleet of surveillance drones to monitor the movement of crude oil shipments.

The Kenyan government recently approved regulations for drones, becoming the second country after Rwanda in the region to embrace commercial use of UAVs.  

However, Africa faces some of the same challenges that drone operators in other parts of the world have encountered. Hourcade told AIN that governments must address a lack of regulation, safety, and security. “You have also training,” she said. “You need to have the right skills for people to operate and maintain drones.”

Of course, lack of regulation is not a problem peculiar to Africa. “We at IATA are working with ICAO, air navigation service providers, and transport ministers all over the world to come up with the right regulatory framework,” said Hourcade. “The objective is to do it efficiently and safely. We need to make sure that this new aviation venture is not causing any damage to traditional aviation.”