Move to harmonise African drone laws

Barely a year after it came into existence, the African Drone Forum is wasting no time making its mark on the continent’s drone landscape.

The forum already has held a symposium and the Lake Kivu Challenge last February in Rwanda. Now it has announced that it will soon be taking stock of all regulations pertaining to Remotely Piloted Aircraft in Africa, with a view to have them harmonised across the continent.

This follows consultations that took place at the inaugural African Drone Forum held in Rwanda in February this year, which established that drone laws in Africa were country-specific and not as uniform as they ought to be. If the continent is to make progress in the drone field, then its laws have to be in harmony from Cape to Cairo.

“In light of the regulatory consultations that took place at the African Drone Forum 2020, the African Drone Forum is proud to announce we are conducting a review of all regulations, policy dialogues and regulatory gaps in the African continent as they pertain to Unmanned Aerial Systems,” the organisation said in a statement.

“This review is supported by our partners at the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, as well as the International Finance Corporation and the Disruptive Technologies for Development Trust Fund. This regulations review deepens our engagement with National Civil Aviation Authorities to draw together this community.”

There are still many countries in Africa with no drone regulations enacted in their aviation law, which has made it hard for people and organisations to either manufacture, import or use drones without getting in trouble with state authorities. The countries that do have written down regulations may have written them in ways that are not friendly for non-citizens. In Kenya for example, you cannot bring your drone into the country if you do not live there. For a country with such rich tourist destinations, this could be a problem for tourists who may wish to use the convenience of drone to capture their holiday.

Drone operations could be improved by harmonisation of regulations across the continent

During plenary about regulations at the last forum, presenters outlined the areas they said were important, including flight safety, airworthiness, risk assessment, training and standardisation. The East African Community’s Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA) has already led the trend in this charge, being responsible for airworthiness inspections of aircraft and airport facilities in the East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi are in the process merging their aviation laws with the agency. CASSOA is working towards harmonising the aviation regulations of the six member states, such that a licence acquired in one state should be valid in the five other member states making the EAC.

The European Union has already made progress in this regard, with the EU Drone Regulations taking over individual national rules from the first of July 2020. Among other factors, the EU regulatory framework will be based on:

A risk-based and proportionate approach:

  • The new framework will introduce three categories of operations (open, specific and certified) according to the level of risks involved. A different regulatory approach will be adopted for each category. Low-risk operations (“open” category) will not require any authorization, but will be subject to strict operational limitations. For medium risk operations, operators will have to require an authorization from the national aviation authority on the basis of a standardized risk assessment or a specific scenario (specific category). Finally, in case of high risk operations, classical aviation rules will apply (certified category).

A sharing of responsibilities between the EU and the Member States:

  • To bring the necessary flexibility, Member States will be able to define “zones” to restrict the access of certain portions of their airspace or on the contrary relax the conditions there. By doing so, national specificities will be addressed at the most appropriate level. Registration and authorizations will also be implemented at national level on the basis on common rules.

The forum will make the full research report and updated drone regulations database available as part of the community knowledge once it is completed.


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