Kenyan drone services company makes history

Kenyan cargo drone services provider, Astral Aerial Solutions has made history by becoming the first drone solutions provider in the country to get the elusive RPAS Operator’s Certificate from the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority.

A Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Operator’s certificate is the Holy Grail of drone operations in Africa; which gives companies the legal authority to carry out their activities with the solid backing of the law behind them.

But acquiring the certificate is an arduous hike, given the stringent requirements – usually to do with safety – that African aviation authorities call for.

And – as shared by Astral Aerial’s Chief Safety Officer, Julie Makena – the drone company’s story started in 2016.

This has been a long journey that started in 2016 when a team of young aviation professionals decided to implement drone technology with the ambition of solving challenges in our transport, agricultural and engineering sectors.

We have been heavily involved in the development of the industry, from setting up a drone training academy, to partnering with DJI as the authorised DJI dealer in East Africa; and finally carrying out hundreds of drone demonstrations to create awareness about the technology.

Obtaining the ROC is a huge milestone and it marks the beginning of a new era in drone-driven last mile deliveries, mapping and agricultural spraying in Kenya. For our ROC, we will be able to carry out multiple operations like agricultural mapping and spraying, environmental mapping and monitoring, surveys, oil and gas applications, infrastructural inspections and seed hopping.

In the case of drone deliveries, we shall obtain approval after assessment from the regulator on a case-to-case basis. This is indeed a critical point in the industry where we can all see the technology take shape and gain its footing in Kenya and Africa as a whole. We are proud to be among the gamechangers.

Julie Makena, Chief Safety Officer
This is an achievement…

Astral Aerial is an affiliate of Astral Aviation, a cargo airline with over 20 years of experience in operating within Africa, which is one of the airlines contacted by the World Health Organisation to distribute COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility across the continent.

The unmanned aviation subsidiary offers drone services that provide a new dimension to logistics, aerial photography, aerial surveillance reconnaissance, inspections among other industries. Recently, the company revealed that it was working with vaccine and drone manufacturers, and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to use its drones for last mile delivery of vaccines around the country.

They have an extensive array of autonomous aerial vehicles in their inventory, with their largest cargo drone capable of carrying a payload of up to 2000kg, with a flight range of 1,200 kilometres and a flight time of up to 26 hours in surveillance mode.

Their smallest drone, according to Astral Aerial, can stay in the air eight hours carrying packages with a maximum weight of four kilograms. Package types can vary from medical supplies to personal effects.

… As Aviation regulator gazettes new drone charges

Meanwhile, the Kenyan parliament has acceded to the services charges for various drone regulations, which will now be gazetted under the Civil Aviation (Regulations Fees and Charges for Unmanned Aerial Systems) Regulations 2020.

The parliament only passed its drone law last year, following years of deliberations, and last year, the initially promulgated charges for services like drone registration and operator’s licences were revoked for being too exorbitant.

“The approval of the Civil Aviation (Regulations Fees and Charges for Unmanned Aerial Systems) Regulations 2020paves way for the full implementation of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) regulatory framework in Kenya,” The KCAA said in a statement.

“These charges are a reduction from the revoked rates under the Kenya Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2017. Under the new structure, Kenyans and entities wishing to own and operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems, popularly known as drones, will now pay a Ksh3,000 (an equivalent of $28) registration fee.”

An RPAS Operator’s certificate, like the one Astral Aerial just got will set organisations back Ksh80,000 (nearly $730) for an initial issue, while renewal will cost Ksh50,000 – which is about $456 in greenback terms.


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