Kenya looking to lead UAM race in Africa

Our report last week about delivery drone operations catching a cold in Europe because Amazon Prime Air and DHL sneezed generated a bit of push back from stakeholders on social media.

There was nothing wrong with the current path delivery drones were taking, as one reader argued. The reality of Amazon Air stumbling had been predicted too; because players in the industry knew right away that what the timeline the company was promising to bring delivery drone technology into everyday operations was unrealistic pie in the sky.

But the delivery drone journey itself is still on course to become a reality in urban cities in about five years, if everybody works hard and desists from trying to cut corners.

And in Africa, Kenya wants to play a part too.

Ever since the country enacted its drone law last year, it has not wasted time trying to catch up with leading drone markets in Africa; awarding operating certificates to ten companies, some of which have in turn used their new found wings to train more operators and pilots.

And now, the country wants to the first in Africa to integrate drone technology alongside manned aircraft in its skies.

This, after Fahari Aviation, the UAS subsidiary of flagship airline Kenya Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Brazilian Urban Air Mobility ecosystem company Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions; whose mandate is to develop operational models for the wide-accessibility of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) to support Fahari Aviation’s key markets.

A subsidiary of aerospace company Embraer dedicated to the fast-tracking of UAM ecosystems, Eve will support Fahari Aviation in establishing its UAM network and collaborate on the required Urban Air Traffic Management (UATM) procedures and UAM operating environment.

In return, Fahari Aviation will support Eve’s aircraft and product development process, which will help guide the integration of UAM with Kenya Airways’ overall operations. (Eve develops fully electric aircraft which it claims is designed to be accessible to all while being a community-friendly aircraft with a low noise signature and no emissions. The small aircraft is said to be ideally suited as a UAM aircraft bringing air travellers closer to their final destination efficiently and comfortably).

The new partnership will also establish the creation of a foundation of concepts and procedures to safely scale electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in Kenya.

“We are thrilled to partner with Kenya Airways to provide new forms of air mobility throughout the region for both people and goods,” said Andre Stein, President & CEO of Eve. “The creation of disruptive and widely accessible Urban Air Mobility solutions will help democratise mobility by making it more accessible, affordable and giving communities more options. This partnership will foster long-term mobility strategies throughout the country and region. With our aircraft and aerospace services backing and Kenya Airways’ innovative approach to air mobility, we are enthusiastic about opening this region to more sustainable and community-friendly air access for all.”

Eve’s new partner was equally elated at this new step in its growth, as testified by the company’s Managing Director Allan Kilavuka.

“Partnerships are vital in mapping out the future of our airline, something which the global crisis has reinforced,” Kilavuka said. “Innovation is a critical element of our long-term sustainability. Fahari Aviation is at the forefront of exploring advanced technologies, with a key focus in aviation, starting with drone technology. With this partnership, we look to develop innovative air mobility solutions for our clients in Kenya and throughout the region.”

The two companies said this partnership will deliver a robust strategy to provide Fahari Aviation’s passengers with a sustainable, accessible, and affordable transportation option.

They estimate that last-mile UAM using eVTOLs from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to downtown Nairobi can reduce conventional road trips by up to 90 percent, turning an hour and a half ride into a 6-minute flight.

There has been no definitive date yet for when operations will get on the ground, but we are looking forward to how this will unfold. Integrating small aircraft into urban airspaces has been a fascinating, if tricky, undertaking for many cities of the world, which several consortiums being set up in Europe to work towards the realisation of this dream.

And if Nairobi hopes to b the first in Africa to achieve this, we are all here for it.

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