New policies open up the space for unmanned aircraft business in Rwanda

Friday September 21 2018

drone

A drone monitors an Irish potato crop in a farm in Rwanda’s Northern Province. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Drone operators in Rwanda are hoping that the Unmanned and Remotely Piloted Aircraft regulations passed in January will attract investors to the sector.

The regulations, which fall under the supervision of the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, did away with restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes.

Individuals were not allowed to fly drones and other unmanned aircraft like free balloons whether for commercial or for recreational purposes.

While there are just a handful of private drone operators in the country presently, it is expected that more companies will venture into the business.

Challenge

However, the lack of skilled manpower remains a challenge, meaning that interested companies have to rely on external labour or incur costs on training local workers.

But the Ministry of ICT said it will partner with international companies to train and provide drone flying certificates to Rwandans.

Charis AUS, a local company that provides drone services including technical inspections of buildings and monitoring of mining sites as well as for social functions, said the policies had opened up the drone space in Rwanda.

“Drones are still new in Rwanda and the region as a whole and people are just getting used to them,” said Charis AUS, technical director” Teddy Segore.

“But the laws have opened up the space for business. We have now expanded to Tanzania and Uganda.”

US robotics firm Zipline, which delivers medical supplies and blood to hospitals and clinics in remote areas has been in operation since 2016.

The company now delivers blood transfusion products to over 20 health centres in record time.

The Ministry of Health said deliveries that would otherwise take hours now happen in less than 30 minutes.

Zipline receives phone text orders from health workers and delivers them from its cold-chain distribution centre. The drones fly over a radius of 80 kilometres.

The regulations passed in January repealed a liability insurance of at least $1 million for commercial drone operators.

Licencing

It is now set at $928 and about $1,160 for third party for commercial drones.

Businesses offering drone services are now given Remote Operator’s Certificate by the aviation authority, costing about $58 for daily operations.

They are also required to have a pilot’s licence and a medical certificate indicating that they are fit to fly a drone.

Night flight for drones is still illegal, but can be considered under special circumstances if a request is made to the civil aviation authority.

Drone owners are also barred from flying near radar sites, high-tension cables and communication masts, highways, stadiums, prisons, police stations, military barracks, law courts and crime scenes.

Investors in drone services stand to benefit from Rwanda’s incentives offered in its 2015 Investment Code, while a budding drone-services-sector would fit well in Rwanda’s target to become a knowledge-based economy and middle-income economy by 2020.

Under the Smart Rwanda Master Plan 2020, government intends to attract investments of at least $1 billion in ICT.

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