Rwanda has caught the world by surprise. With immediate effect, anyone with approval as provided by the regulator, can fly a drone in Rwanda’s airspace. On Monday afternoon, the government of Rwanda approved regulations providing for the use of all kinds of drones.
Rwanda becomes the first country to adopt regulation for all drones, allowing regulators to take into account the nature of the mission and the physical specifications of the drone.
Rwanda’s Minister of Information Technology and Communication, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, said that development sets the stage to accelerate innovation in Rwanda’s budding drone ecosystem.
He said the move emphasizes Rwanda’s ambition of putting technology at the center of its economic transformation.
“Building on the success of Zipline’s blood delivery technology, we are working to nurture a drone industry,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“As we look to the future, we will continue to put in place the infrastructure and policy frameworks that accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to transform people’s lives,” he added.
Conventional approaches to drone regulation, focused on specific equipment requirements, are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological innovation.
A performance-based approach allows both regulators and operators to respond dynamically to technical challenges in socially responsible ways, including ensuring the safety of the public. This opens up the airspace to more operators and applications, thereby spurring business development and social impact.
According to Minister Rurangirwa, the enhancement of Rwanda’s drone regulation framework, developed in consultation with the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is a major step in creating an enabling environment for the development and deployment of drone technology.
“We are also establishing capacity-building programs to invest in local talent and leverage public-private partnerships to lay the groundwork for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Partnering with the World Economic Forum
The Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution was opened in March 2017 in San Francisco to shape the trajectory of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by co-designing innovative approaches to governance and policy with government partners.
Murat Sonmez, Head of the Center, said: “At the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our vision is to help governments like Rwanda work alongside leading businesses, dynamic start-ups, members of civil society and academia to shape the development and use of emerging technologies for the benefit of society.”
“Rwanda is one of the first countries to partner with the Forum in this space. The Government of Rwanda’s leadership in co-designing agile policy frameworks around the use of drones, could be a model for other countries that want to accelerate adoption of this game-changing technology,” he added.
A number of other transformational initiatives are underway in Rwanda, including Africa’s first air-traffic management system for drones, a Center of Excellence for training and certification, and the use of drones to fight poaching in national parks.
Claudette Irere, the Director General in the Ministry of Information Technology and Communication told Taarifa that a Rwandan Fellow spent over 12 months with a team of experts at the World Economic Forum trying to work around the best and efficient regulatory instrument that would facilitate a smooth entry into this complex industry.
Irere said that Rwanda indeed does not manufacture any drones nor does the country sell or operate drones, but the essence of this move is to provide an environment where anyone seeking to test innovation and usage of drone can find an opportunity to do so.
Venturing into such a complex industry requires technical-known how and experience. “A collection of experts at Davos worked with our expert to develop the right regulations and we believe this tool will serve as an opportunity for many drone operators around the world where there is lack of regulation.”
Drones and war
The world is scared of drones. Reasons are well known. For over a decade, drones have become synonymous with war. They have been used by superpowers for military operations around the world.
With their dvantages over other weapons and intelligence systems include silent observation of an individual, group, or location for hours and can take immediate action should a strike opportunity become available; all without putting a pilot at risk.
This unique combination of capabilities has allowed the United States for example, in its military campaign against terrorism particularly in Afghanistan to disrupt the activities of many militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.
However, in many reported instances the USA has misused drones and killed thousands of innocent civilians in war zones, thus tainting drones with murder.
Indeed, to the military, they are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). However, they are more commonly known as drones.
In the ideal military world, drones are used in situations where operated flying is considered too risky or difficult. They provide ground troops with a 24-hour “eye in the sky”, seven days a week. Beyond that, they can also engage an enemy with a direct shelling of missiles. From quick deliveries at rush hour to scanning an unreachable military base, drones are proving to be extremely beneficial in places where troops cannot reach or is unable to perform in a timely and efficient manner.
Drones for business and social impact
Yet, when Rwanda partnered with Silicon-Valley based company Zipline in 2016, it was a strategic step to pioneer the use of drones to deliver essential supplies to rural hospitals. The benefits of this partnership are already evident today, with over three thousand deliveries, including the timely provision of blood to hemorrhaging mothers during childbirth.
Commercial usage of drones is gaining steady momentum and has become the talk of the hour, as multiple industries are working with drones as part of their daily regular business functions.
The market for commercial and civilian drones will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19% between 2015 and 2020, compared with 5% growth on the military side, according to BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service.
The commercial drone industry is still young, but it has begun to see some consolidation and major investments from industrial conglomerates, chip companies, IT consulting firms, and major defense contractors. For now, the industry leaders are still a handful of early-stage manufacturers in Europe, Asia, and North America.
As it becomes cheaper to customize commercial drones, the door will be opened to allow new functionality in a wide array of niche spaces. Sophisticated drones could soon be doing everyday tasks like fertilizing crop fields on an automated basis, monitoring traffic incidents, surveying hard-to-reach places, or even delivering pizzas.
According to AUVSI, commercial drones usage could be valued at $82 billion and creation of roughly 100,000-job boost to the U.S. economy by 2025 alone.
However, the biggest challenge in different economies is that there is no regulation that provides set rules and provisions for either testing or usage of drones, even for business purposes.
Rwanda believes that by creating an environment for interested entities or individuals will spur innovation trigger efforts for desired outcomes of the Fourth Industrial revolution. “We have decided to create the ecosystem, and others will follow suit,” Irere told Taarifa.
General Rwanda drone laws
Drone use is allowed in Rwanda, but laws and regulations that need to be followed when flying in the country include the following;
- Provide for operations of unmanned aircraft of maximum take-off weight not exceeding 25 kilograms;
- Limit the operations of unmanned aircraft to visual line of sight (VLOS) operations (i.e., the lateral distance between the unmanned aircraft and the remote pilot must not be more than 300 metres);
- Prohibit flying an unmanned aircraft at a speed exceeding 87 knots (100 metres/hour);
- Prohibit operators from flying or operating an unmanned aircraft above an altitude of 100 metres;
- Prohibit operations of unmanned aircraft at lateral distance of less than 50 m from any person, building, structure, vehicle, vessel or animal not associated with the remotely piloted aircraft operation;
- Prohibit an unmanned aircraft from fly over people or congested areas unless a permit is issued;
- Prohibit operators from flying or operating an unmanned aircraft within 10 km of an aerodrome regardless of height, unless authorized to do so;
- Prohibit an unmanned aircraft from overflying or taking photographs of prohibited areas;
- Prohibit night operations of unmanned aircraft;
- Prohibit a person from acting as a pilot or operator flying more than unmanned aircraft at the same time;
- Require operators to obtain a permit to fly or operate an unmanned aircraft
- Require operators of unmanned aircraft to subscribe for liability insurance;
- Provide the necessary enforcement powers to deter malicious or dangerous unmanned aircraft activities which may threaten public safety and security;