Fees charged by the government to operate drones in the country could be a key hindrance in the uptake of the new technology.
The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are increasingly being seen as critical for certain sectors such as film and research.
The local tax regime could, however, be a limiting factor in their uptake, accounting for a substantial chunk of the cost of acquiring, as well as operating the equipment.
A look at the Civil Aviation (Regulatory Fees and Charges for Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2020, which spell out how much users should pay to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), show how the levies could be a major hurdle for sectors that are keen on using the equipment.
During the first year of use, operating a drone could cost up to Sh1 million in regulatory fees, which is way above the cost of many drones in the market currently.
The levies include a Category B Authorisation fee, charged at Sh2,500 per day, which could translate into Sh912,500 per year.
While it is odd for drone owners to use their equipment daily, there are those who might need to use them regularly such as event organisers, filmmakers and media houses.
Other fees that go to KCAA include Remote Operators’ Certificate (ROC) that attracts an annual fee of Sh80,000, ROC manuals (Sh20,000 per year), an import licence (Sh3,000), a registration fee of Sh2,000 and a remote pilot licence (Sh4,000).
While some of these are one-off costs incurred during the first year following the acquisition of the drone, the recurring annual fees are equally high.
Users are required to pay the category B authorisation fee of Sh2,500 daily continuously and renew the ROC fee, albeit at a lower rate of Sh50,000 annually.
This brings the total cost per year of operating a drone to Sh962,500.
The regulatory fees are in addition to other costs that operators have to bear to keep their drones buzzing, including a one-off drone pilot licence, as well as an annual insurance cost estimated at about Sh15,000 that could go up or down depending on the size and capabilities of the drone.
The fees came into effect following the enactment of the Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2020, which govern the importation and local use of drones in the country.
Initially, the use of drones was not governed by laws specific to them, but as their use grew, KCAA developed a set of regulations that were expected to guarantee security while encouraging their use in the prescribed manner.
The regulations provide penalties for those who contravene the law, including a Sh2 million fine or a three-year jail term.