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You risk three years in jail or Sh3m fine if you fly that drone

SCI & TECH
By Peter Theuri | March 21st 2021

A drone to spray the breeding grounds of malaria-carrying mosquitoes is tested at Cheju paddy farms in Zanzibar, Tanzania. [AP]

You can now fly your drone without having to employ aggressive methods of watching your back.

That is if, you obtain a licence to be a remote pilot.

Drones mostly used to capture images, record videos for entertainment or commercial purposes, have had a long story with local authorities.

They have gone from being legal to illegal to legal again.

But now, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) will be issuing licenses to drone operators in the country after the new regulations came into force.

The authority has received the go-ahead to operationalise the Civil Aviation (Regulatory Fees and Charges for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations, 2020.

KCAA will now charge drone operators who seek licences. A schedule of fees and charges for services rendered by KCAA concerning unmanned aircraft system has also been released.

“The approval to operationalise the Civil Aviation (Regulatory Fees and Charges for UAS) Regulations 2020 means that the Authority can now start levying fees for the services rendered for various UAS activities,” says KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe.

UAS operations have been legal and regulated since the promulgation of the Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2020 through Legal Notice 42 of the Kenya Gazette Supplement 34 of March 30, 2020.

The regulations replaced the Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2017

The highest fee listed is chargeable for Remote Air Operator Certificate Initial issue, at Sh80,000. An equivalent amount will be charged on a training organisation’s approval and in the initial issue of the certification of UAS resalers and distributors.

The licences are renewable.

Drones were legal when they were relatively new in the local scene.

But KCAA at some point had to clamp down on them as risks increased.

By then, anyone found contravening the regulation was liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.

The new Regulation 51 of the Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2020 however provide harsh penalties for those who contravene the regulations. “The penalty is a fine not exceeding Sh2 million, imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both,” said Kibe.

Drones are used for various purposes, including in the military, delivery of goods, emergency rescue, land use and cover monitoring, wildlife and historical conservation, and photography.

They can easily access difficult-to-reach areas, eliminating the need for humans to risk their lives trying to access such areas.

But drones are not immune to their problems, including causing accidents by crashing into aircraft or other equipment, flying missiles, and capturing images illegally. Instances of drones being brought down as they trespass other territories, abound.

The approval of the Civil Aviation (Regulatory Fees and Charges for UAS Regulations, 2020 paves the way for full implementation of the drones’ regulatory framework in Kenya.

Under the new cost structure, Kenyans and entities wishing to own and operate UAS or drones will now pay a Sh3,000 registration fee.

Captain Kibe says the gazettement of the regulations heralded a new era in the country’s aviation ecosystem - opening up the sector to innovations.

“Innovation in UAS has been accelerating at an exponential rate. The capabilities of this technology are limitless – from the positives such as filming movies, documentaries, sports, weddings and delivering medicines.”

And now, KCAA is encouraging individuals or entities that have already imported UAS to apply for registration and approval.

The Civil Aviation (UAS) Regulations, 2020 categorises drones based on the risks posed by their operations, from low to medium, to high risks under different categories, A, B and C.

The UAS risk to public safety and security form the basis for consideration by the regulator in registering, issuing approvals and authorisations for operations.

Captain Kibe said the authority is working on acquiring an Unmanned Traffic Management system that will enable it to monitor and track all unmanned activities (both registered and unregistered) in the country.

“We have also established a multi-agency team from the Authority and all other relevant security agencies that will be able to deal with cases of non-compliance to the laid down regulations.

He urged the public to report any incidences of drone usage that invades privacy to the Kenya Police for appropriate action.

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