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Rwanda skies now open for commercial drone flyers

Rwanda has opened its skies to commercial drones — a move that is expected to attract investors in the Unmanned Civil Aircraft System (UAS) industry.

The new regulations were approved in January and seek to govern the use of UAS to conduct complex commercial drones operations.

“The new regulations allow drones to fly above the visual line of sight and the use of highly automated drones originally not included in the repealed regulations,” said Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, the Minister of State in charge of Transport in the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA).

The two types included in the new rules are the most popular among commercial drone operators, especially technology companies dealing in delivery of goods.

With the new regulations, the country wants to tap into the opportunities offered by the fast growing commercial drone industry and maintain its reputation as a nation that supports growth of technology.

Drone services

US-based robotics firm Zipline, in partnership with the Rwanda government, started commercial blood delivery in the country in 2016. However, its operations remained unregulated until recently.

Besides offering delivery services, drones are also used in filming, crop monitoring, search and rescue or delivery of emergency supplies, research and development as well as in academia.

Industry experts view the new regulations as favourable and less restrictive and likely to increase investments in the sector.

“Removing obstacles that were in the previous regulations is a positive step and presents business opportunities,” said Teddy Segore, a drone operator with CHARIS, the first locally-owned drone company in the country.

The new regulations have repealed the requirement that any person operating a drone have liability insurance of not less than $1 million. This requirement was inapplicable and operators have been going around it.

“We pay between Rwf800,000 ($928) and Rwf1,000,000 ($1,160) for third party insurance, because drones fall under the category of aircrafts,” said Olivier Dukuze, a music video director, who uses drones in his business.

Night flights

Though night operations are still not permitted the new regulation allows for commercial operators wishing to take part in night flights to apply for clearance from the civil aviation authority, which will consider the applications “on a case by case basis.”

Drone operators are required to hold a valid Remote Operator’s Certificate (ROC) that is issued by the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority. The certificate costs Rwf50,000 ($58) for every day of operations.

A drone operator also needs a pilot’s licence and a medical certificate. They are also prohibited from flying in or around strategic installations like radar sites, high-tension cables and communication masts, highways, stadiums, prisons, police stations, military barracks, law courts and crime scenes.

There is currently no institution offering drone training in the country and all licensed operators were trained in either Europe, US or South Africa.

“There is a plan to partner with private companies to provide training, capacity building and certification of drone operators in Rwanda and in the region,” said Mr Uwihanganye.

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