How future cities can plan for effective use of drones

drones

City traffic is a sight too common, yet notorious in major cities across the world. While there are alternatives to ease the crisis, drones are backed to usher in a new age of city mobility.

This comes amid the ever growing urban population which has made existing transport infrastructure seem unplanned.

But while many city residents are met with longer hours in traffic, some are predicting a future where drone taxis will rule city skies, if only to avoid sweat and fumes that come with traffic jams.

At the 9th Africities Summit, Fahari Aviation which is a Kenya Airways subsidiary showcased two drones whose application will be key going into the future.

Fahari Aviation’s fully agriculture drone can carry 30 litres of pesticides and 30kg of seeds. PHOTO | Ronald Owili

According Operations Manager Naima Sheikhan Fahari Aviation is currently offering four drone applications which include pest and disease control, seeding, aerial mapping and crop surveillance to clients.

While the taxi option is missing from current applications despite Kenya Airways being a major passenger and cargo operator in the world, I ask her plans for delivery application.

“We are already testing that. We have international partners who we are doing the current testing with. The only limitation right now with the regulations is that we are not yet allowed to operate Beyond Visual Line of Site (B-VLOS) and usually such drones go 200-400km,” says Sheikhan.

drone
Drone used for aerial survey and mapping. PHOTO | Ronald Owili

Due to restrictions of drone operation to B-VLOS, it means a drone delivering a hot cup of coffee you ordered online to your doorstep or getting a drone taxi to fly you from Kasarani to Upper Hill to beat the traffic is still a pipe dream, but not for long.

Sheikhan says, to have effective application of drones within intermediary cities such as Kisumu, Mombasa and Nakuru, policymakers need to accommodate drone use in their plans, such as establishment of drone corridors to minimize risks associate with piloting the aircrafts.

“Drone corridors are where we demarcate where the drones will be deployed. For example if I’m trying to deployed medical supplies in town, you can have your drone port whereby that becomes the location where all the drones land and distribution happens there,” she says.

Additionally, cities will have to set up unmanned aircraft traffic management systems to monitor movements in cities.  This will require the building of control command link to allow for operation of drones B-VLOS and Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) in order to usher in the age of flying taxis which are currently being tested by various startups across the world.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulations of 2020 classifies drones in three categories A, B and C which are low risk, medium risks and high risk respectively.

“Having the regulation is important and it has showed that Kenya is adaptable to technology because before it was vague and secretive in terms of security management and control of it. Now it makes sure the drones don’t get into the wrong hands which was what people were scared of in almost every country,” adds Sheikhan.

Ms Sheikhan inspecting one of the drone. Fahari Aviation also does conversion of Remote Pilot License for foreign license holders who wish to fly the drones locally. PHOTO | Ronald Owili

To increase the number of drone pilots given the use has also expanded to other fields such as film, Fahari Aviation is also offering training for Remote Pilot License.

The four weeks training which costs Kshs. 180, 000 also subjects trainees to five hours of flight tests before attaining a Multi-rotary Remote Pilot License.

  

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