Nairobi skies to have Uber flying taxi

Chinese-made drone, which can carry a passenger weighing up to 99.7kg. Uber plans to capitalise on traffic jam in Nairobi to launch flying taxi service. [Agency]

Delivering medical supplies by drones might soon be a reality in the country. And the good news does not end there; the drones could just be the answer to Nairobi's traffic woes.

Kenya Red Cross Society and Uber have applied for licences to operate the remotely piloted aircraft

The decision by Kenya Red Cross brings the country closer to Rwanda where drones are used to deliver medical supplies to remote areas.

Tanzania is also set to unveil the world’s largest drone delivery network next year, with drones flying medicines and blood to save the lives of women giving birth and children struck with malaria.

Also to join Red Cross in a bid to comply with the latest raft of regulations on remote piloted aircraft (RPAs), popularly known as drones, is ride-hailing company Uber.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) Director General Gilbert Kibe said yesterday in Nairobi that the San Fransisco-based technology company planned to introduce a flying taxi, which had already been tested in Dubai.

Kibe said social media site Facebook was another company that had expressed interest in acquiring the licence.

Use of drones in emergency services, such as delivering medical supplies, has gained popularity in African countries where infrastructure is poor.

The use of drones in Kenya has continued to grow in popularity during weddings, but there is potential for the technology to be used in agricultural surveys and e-commerce.

E-commerce company Kilimall in 2014 reported to have partnered with technicians from China to deliver packages to customers’ doorstep using drones “within 30-minute delivery time” in Nairobi.

Kibe said with the legal notice of October 2017, it was now legal to operate drones in Kenya, pending ratification by Parliament.


Owners of unlicensed drones have six months to register their RPAs with the KCAA or risk a six-month jail-term or a fine Sh2 million.

“You have six months to register your drones. After which we will inform you of what you need to do to operate that drone in a lawful manner,” said Kibe.

But the severity of penalty for illegal drone operator in Kenya pales in comparison to Ghana’s where someone found guilty of operating an illegal drone can spend up to 30 years in prison.

Drone owners can pay up to $3,500 (Sh350,000) in fees- though for starters they can pay only import and registration fees amounting to Sh60,000.

While the regulations were crafted by KCAA, the hefty fees were set by the country’s top security organ, National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC).

Privacy concerns

“You can imagine a situation where you are somewhere and a drone is firing at you,” said Kibe, noting that the regulations, which are among the first in Africa have been informed by the need to ensure security.

There are also privacy concerns, with some people fearing that drones mounted with cameras can be used to intrude on their space and privacy.

A task force will be set up to come up with a document that simplifies the fee structure. “Give us a few days and we will circulate a simplified fee structure for drone operation in Kenya,” said Kibe.