Zimbabwe power distribution company obtains ROC

A Zimbabwean parastatal has become the first company in the country to acquire a Remote Operator’s Certificate in the country.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) will be using its newly acquired drone superpowers to inspect power lines across the country, checking for faults that would disturb the uninterrupted supply of electricity, and also ensuring that the electricity infrastructure paths remain free from vegetation overgrowth and other foreign impediments.

“Drones are key in the Zimbabwe’s electricity market digital disruption,” said Sydney Gata, the executive chairman of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) the parent company of the ZETDC. “They create opportunities beyond the traditional way of doing business, provide non-traditional solutions and simplify the electricity generation, transmission and distribution processes.”

Without even going hyperbolic, we can certify that obtaining an ROC is something akin to striking gold in Africa, with many regulators on the continent still looking at drone technology with untrusting eyes, which has made the certification process usually gruelling and time-consuming.

South Africa, for instance, was the first African country to realise the potential drone had for the national economy, and the first to promulgate a drone law in 2015; but event then the country has been shy in approving ROCs to organisations that need them – only handing out about 90 across the country to date.

The certification process could also stretch three years.

In acquiring their ROC, the ZETDC had to satisfy the local Civil Aviation Authority in five phases – pre-application, formal application, documentation and evaluation; and finally, inspection.

“The government has established local regulations to guide the industry, which includes those who want to use the drones for private, commercial, corporate and non-profit operations,” said Elijah Chingosho, Director General of CAAZ.

“These regulations are called the Civil Aviation Remotely Pilot Aircraft Regulations and are published in Statutory Instrument 271 of 2018. They seek to achieve integration and acceptance of drones into the existing aviation systems while fostering an innovation and competitive drone industry.”

Little by little, drone technology is gaining traction on the Zimbabwean commercial and public space, with the country holding its first ever conference on drones last November. Since then, the local disaster response organization, the Civil Protection Unit received its batch of drones to deploy during emergencies like floods and fire outbreaks.

There are also a number of start-ups that have been using the drones in agriculture, in addition to hitherto small and medium scale applications in mining, surveying and environmental and wildlife conservation.

Two drone training schools have also since opened up their doors for business in the country.

The rage in drone technology in Southern Africa has been in government-supported medical logistics though. Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia have partnered with international non-governmental organisations and medical drone logistics companies to transport medical supplies to their rural health facilities in a faster way, but Zimbabwe has not even tried autonomous medical logistics as yet.

The experiences with the ZETDC may prove a positive turn for the growth of the drone industry in the country, and we congratulate them on their achievement.

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