The use of drones is on the rise in Africa, from delivering blood in Ghana to monitoring property in South Africa. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are ideally positioned to assist with the continent’s development needs, and can be used to reach its remote people and provide cheap aerial situational awareness amongst many other useful applications.
The first African Drone Forum 2020 held in Rwanda in early February 2020 highlighted the continent’s desire for innovative technologies. Through the “Lake Kivu challenge”, ten international drone companies competed in a three-part challenge to win a contract to use their drones for cargo delivery services, data collection and mapping services. In the first challenge, competitors had to safely deliver an emergency package weighing a minimum of one kilogram from the drone port of the mainland (Karongi District, Rwanda) to a drone port on Burgarura Island in Lake Kivu and then return and land at the starting point.
The second challenge was to safely pick up as many 250 gram modules as possible from the drone port on Bugarura Island and return to the mainland. The final challenge was to identify the coordinates of both land-based and water-based targets in Lake Kivu, then return and land safely at the starting point. The distance between the drone ports is around approximately 20 km. The flights took place between 29 January and 16 February with a symposium and expo from 5–7 February. The symposium and expo were held in Kigali and featured 50 exhibitors, 100 speakers and over 60 regulators from 26 countries. The Africa Drone Forum stated, “One clear message is that Africa is open for business.”
In the emergency delivery competition, the winner was Wingcopter from Germany. In the sample delivery competition, the winner was Phoenix Wings, also from Germany. In the flight and assess competition, the winner was Hojung Solution from South Korea.
Safety and airspace integration adviser for the Lake Kivu Challenge, David Guerin, gave a presentation on the Lake Kivu Challenge when the Royal Aeronautical Society hosted The African Drone Forums webinar, “Drone Operations for Good” on 23 July.
To explain the rationale behind drone operations for ‘good’, Guerin said, “Road safety became Africa’s third biggest killer in 2018, after HIV and malaria. Drones have their place in supporting associated essential supply chains and reducing, for example, mosquito numbers and to decrease these terrible figures.”
Additionally, Guerin stated traditional methods of transport such as road and rail are vastly more expensive, rural medical dispensaries have a challenge maintaining their inventory, Sub-Saharan Africa has 30 000 deaths a year from snake bites and only three percent of Africa is digitally mapped, compared to Europe at 90%. In 2018, 28% of all blood tests were spoiled in transit from the Ukerewe Islands of Lake Victoria to Mwanza, Tanzania.
The rationale and need for cheap, safe and data rich cargo transporters in Africa is abundantly apparent. When it comes to how drone operations should be conducted, Guerin suggests taking note of a pilot project called, “Deliver Further” being done with Wingcopter in Mwanza. Drone hubs are set up in class D controlled air space, 30 nautical miles around Mwanza with drone ports set up near the hard-to-reach health facilities surrounding the region. “Within that area, all the traffic is known, it is all controlled by air traffic control so this reduces the airborne risk for beyond visual line of sight flying.”
Examples of how drones are currently making a difference in Africa can be seen all over the continent as companies are delivering blood to remote areas in Ghana, monitoring infrastructure in Côte d’Ivoire, monitoring flood damage in Senegal and Niger and being used for search and rescue after Cyclone Idai in Mozambique.
When it comes to the harmonization between drones, traditional supply chains and air traffic control, Guerin suggests taking lessons from Europe, meaning progressive drone regulations under one body such as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In Africa, Guerin points out the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) as a good body to comply with as it includes EASA control and South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria are all members.
Another organization Guerin also gives as an example is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which has offices in West and Central Africa, East and South Africa and the Middle East. It facilitates the existence of Regional Safety Oversight Offices (RSOOs) around Africa for members to exchange information and lessons learnt. Additionally, in the African Union (AU) there is the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) which assists African countries in working towards integrated and sustainable air transport systems and also helps to implement ICAO standards and practices. Although there is a considerable number of African countries (12) with no known drone regulations, Guerin firmly believes that countries are progressing. Nineteen African countries have regulations while seven countries have rules and/or a directive.
In terms of flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), Guerin states there are five states (Ghana, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) where there is potentially legislative process allowing BVLOS flight in low level air space. There are currently eight states (Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia and South Africa) where one can gain BVLOS authorization.
Guerin concluded in saying, “We also need to continue to respect people’s safety, their privacy, security and the environment. Never use a drone for the sake of using drones, there must be a need and there are a lot of needs in Africa.”
Guerin’s full presentation on safety and airspace integration for the Lake Kivu Challenge can be found on Youtube.