On 30th March 2020, Kenya legalised the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, for recreational and commercial use. The Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations, 2020 (Drone Regulations) not only provide the legal framework for the import and export of drones but also for the manufacture, assembly, modification, testing and sale of drones, and the regulatory mandate of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. This opens a market with an estimated global value over USD 40 billion in the next five years, with East Africa projected to generate drone revenues well over $150 million in the next 2 – 3 years.

The Drone Regulations provide new opportunities for participants in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, transport, security, mining, security, media, entertainment, manufacturing, information technology and even the real estate sector. Businesses in other jurisdictions have reported benefits including a reduction in operating costs, creation of new revenue streams and greater data accuracy. Service sectors such as banking, finance and insurance should seize the new opportunities available to them by providing new products for the nascent sector.

Under the Drone Regulations, drone operations shall be classified under three categories, namely:

  • Category A, which operations poses a low risk to the public, property and aircraft. The drones will be required to operate within visual line of sight at a maximum height of 400 feet above ground level, 50 meters lateral distance from any persons, and with a maximum take-off weight (including the payload) of 25 kgs.
  • Category B, which operations are determined to pose a medium risk to the public, property and aircraft. The drones under this category are required to operate within visual line of sight (including extended visual line of sight) at all times with the heights above ground and distances from any persons, buildings or objects not associated with the operation being determined by the aviation authority. Drones in this category are not allowed to operate in controlled airspace, and any operations in prohibited, restricted, or dangerous areas requires approval from the aviation authority. The pilot will need to hold a valid licence to in order operate the drone.
  • Category C which operations poses a high risk to the public, property and aircraft. Under this category, drones may be operated beyond the visual line of sight and in any airspace not classified as prohibited, restricted or dangerous. The operation will be subject to air traffic control instructions and guidance with the pilot being required to hold appropriate ratings to operate the drone.

In determining whether to issue a licence or register a drone, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority will take into consideration, the national security, international and regional obligations under treaties and agreements, public safety, terrorism or organized criminal activities, amongst other considerations. It is to be noted that a person shall be eligible to own a drone (without military specifications) only if the person is:

  • a Kenyan citizen;
  • a company registered in Kenya; or
  • is a national or county government.

In order to commercially operate drones, an operator will be required to obtain a remote aircraft operating certificate, which is to be issued once the operator satisfies certain prescribed criteria.

The penalties for contravening the Drone Regulations can result, upon conviction, in a fine of up to KShs. 2 million for each offence or imprisonment for a term of up to 3 years, or both. Therefore, it is important that owners of drones already in the country register within 6 months of the commencement of the Drone Regulations to avoid any sanctions by the aviation authority. 

If you would like further information or guidance on this development, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Article by Chris Kiragu, Principal Associate in the Corporate and Commercial practice group.


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