Flying Solo: The Rise of Drones In Africa

Aircraft and Innovation
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
June 7, 2021

Ever since getting the green light for civilian use, drones have skyrocketed in popularity finding applications in a myriad of industries from farming to photography, sewer maintenance and aviation. In 2017 alone, 3 million drones were sold globally.

In Africa, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are increasing in popularity throughout the continent, seeing effective use in the fields of agriculture and healthcare; where farmers are using UAVs to monitor crop yields and accurately forecast food shortages and prevent them, along with watering fields and spraying pesticides. Meanwhile, drones have also proven effective in saving lives by rapidly delivering blood to patients in remote locations along with spraying larvicide to inhibit malaria diffusion.

With the ambition to become a leader of drone application in Africa, Kenya Airways has signed a partnership agreement with UK-based Advanced Air mobility (AAM) company Skyports that will grant Fahari Aviation, a subsidiary of Kenya Airways, access to drones by the end of 2021. The agreement comes months after the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority legalized the use of commercial UAVs to the public. By expanding its income streams, Kenya Airways also hopes to avoid the significant losses it shared with the global aviation industry experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This partnership with Skyports will support our diversification plans in drone technology application. This will give us access to available equipment and established operations that will lay the foundation for the Kenyan and regional drone market through our drone and emerging aviation technology subsidiary, Fahari Aviation,”

Alan Kilavuka - Kenya Airways CEO

As an enterprise, Skyports specializes in drone-assisted services along with providing airports with high-tech landing infrastructure. The company splits its UAV applications into three genres, medical, logistic and e-commerce. Its integration of UAV tech in Kenya will take inspiration from previous experience with the UK National Health Service, where since February of 2021, drones have been used effectively to transport Covid-19 test samples and medical materials between facilities in the UK. To date, Skyports claims that their UAV services have transported over 900 medical samples over a distance of 14.000kms whilst cutting 12/000 hours in transport time.  In addition, delivery drones were also implemented by the Royal Mail for deliveries in Scotland, proving particularly effective for providing island deliveries in poor weather conditions.  

To achieve their goal of giving Africa the highest quality drone-assisted services, Fahari Aviation is to provide their clients with five main UAV applications whilst also training drone pilots and staff in their safe management and operation. The subsidiary also plans to lease UAVs and handle its maintenance requirements. At present, the company is proposing the use of drones for surveillance and aerial mapping, industrial inspections, emergency and rescue services along with agriculture and transportation. Whilst testing the use of drones for delivery and maintenance inspection purposes has already commenced in Kenya, in the near future proposals for medical and logistical applications are being considered. Furthermore, the two companies hope to extend their drone services to the Kenyan public.

"Our partnership with Kenya Airways can unlock significant opportunities for drone deliveries and inspections in Kenya, creating time and cost savings for our customers and contribute to the growth of the country's tech and aviation ecosystem,”

Duncan Walker  - Skyports CEO

Astral Aerial team showcasing one of their drones

Fahari Aviation is not alone in the Kenyan drone race, with Astral Aerial Solutions, an affiliate of Astral Aviation, already in the market with commercial drone applications in the region. Currently, the company has been using the Flyox cargo drone which has the capacity to transport up to 1,850kg within a range of 1,200km, along with having a 26 hour standby time which proves useful for surveillance operations. The company also operates the Wingcopter a smaller delivery drone that stretches eight hours of flight time with a maximum capacity of four kilograms. Other contenders to UAV operations in the region include Drone Africa Service, Zipline and ATLAN Space.

As the world adapts to the use of drones gradually regulating their airspace presence alongside existing aircraft,  Africa is slowly catching up with some countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, and Botswana allowing public access to UAVs and their services. Meanwhile, other nations, particularly in the North African region are yet to authorize drone usage outside of military circles. In other cases, such as Liberia, there is no legal consideration with regard to UAVs.

That said, civilian application of drones can prove to be extremely effective in safely navigating the harsh terrains throughout the continent - such as deserts and savannas, along with mountainous regions. Coupled with the fact that many locations suffer from poor infrastructure and limited accessibility, UAVs can overcome all of these inconveniences giving Africa a new beginning in its ongoing technological development and ease the humanitarian crises commonly experienced throughout the continent.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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