Kenya's Drone Regulations...
Updated: Oct 13
The long way owning and flying a drone in Kenya for natural history programs!
In this article I want to share my long, long journey through Kenya's maze of regulations to own and operate a drone. Where do I start...
GETTING THE COMMERCIAL DRONE LICENSE
First of all you need a commercial drone license to operate a drone for film productions here in Kenya. And this is one of the bigger investments as the costs for the five day course, we are talking about getting back to school from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon, is quite steep. The commercial drone license will set you back around 1500USD! It includes the class, the practical flight training as well as the exam costs and the medical certificate you will need. The medical certificate is actually the one that professional air traffic controllers have to undergo... And guess what, yes you have to get a new one done every year as soon as you are above 40 years of age. So after you have sorted all that out, you are ready to go and own a drone... WRONG!
OWNING YOUR OWN DRONE IN KENYA
This is where it gets really complicated and frustrating... There are only a few companies in Kenya which are legally allowed to import and sell drones. As these companies have to undergo a very time consuming progress to be "trustful" enough to do imports and sells of drones, lots of shops selling drones in Kenya are doing this illegal. So you need to buy your drone from a KCAA (Kenya Civil Aviation Authority) approved dealer.
For the drone dealer to release your drone, it needs to be transferred into your name or company. And on top of it it needs to get a CoR (Certificate of Registration). Basically a Kenyan Airplane Registration Number. So to get the transfer of ownership done, you need to pull down your trousers and provide documents including tax documents, police clearance certificates, insurance, company registration details etc. etc. Basically you give all information about you and your company out.
After that, someone from the KCAA will ring your door bell to conduct a in person vetting. This vetting took myself more than two hours and I felt like I am beeing investigated by the secret service. More information are shared in this progress about your relatives, education etc. Its basically the same form you have to fill out when applying for a fire arm... Ok we are already 6 month into it... Finally light at the end of the tunnel? NOPE!
After the vetting the whole information package goes to the MoD (Ministry of Defence) for clearance. In my case it took another 6 weeks for things to move. So more than 7 months later, I finally got the CoR and the drone was delivered.
FLYING FOR COMMERCIAL PROJECTS
You are finally excited to own your own drone and finally can take up some commercial jobs. Well, there are some more things to do before you can even think of taking off. Each commercial drone operation in Kenya needs a clearance from KCAA. This clearance you can only get if you are a registered commercial drone operator. To get this status, you have to undergo another year of vetting, approving, checking out your premises etc. So clearly not something you want to go through again. What are the options then? You need to use a registered commercial drone company to get the drone license for the shoot. This will take some days to get the application done and will set you back some more USDs per day. After you finally gotten your drone license for your shoot, you have to fill out some more documents and then you are good to fly...
TEMPORARY IMPORT OF DRONES
Normally the law says that you can only get a temporary drone import permit, if the same model is NOT available in Kenya. So foreign production houses have to use local drones for their shoots in Kenya. This would be the legal way. Foreign companies need to hire a drone registered in Kenya to be able to use it for their productions. Unfortunately this is not always the case...
WHAT DRONE IS GOOD FOR WILDLIFE?
I personally own a Mavic 3 Classic. I bought the drone before the Mavic 3 Pro was announced and probably would have gone with the Pro. But the fact that the Classic has the same wide sensor than the Pro and only lacks two more focal lengths, from which only one is usable, I think it will be fine for the next years.
As you are most of the time filming in remote areas, you want to have as much flight time available as possible. A minimum of three batteries will be good enough to start off with. Each battery will give you around 40min flight time. So by the time you are on your last battery, the first one is already charged again. The Mavic 3 packages all come with a car charger, where you can charge your batteries on the go. I also got the three way fast charger, so I am able to charge the batteries in less than an hour.
You also want to get some ND filters for your drone. I went for two different kind of filters. I have a filter set for ND only and one for ND with polarizer as I often fly above water for our fishing show. Then you have no water reflection and you can see into the water. But for most of the wildlife stuff I am using the normal ND filters without polarizer. ND filters are a MUST for any commercial drone work as it will allow you to shoot lower shutter speeds to make your image look more CINEMATIC... what ever that means :-)
So that is basically it! Flying a drone in Kenya for commercial projects is a huge logistical and bureaucratically challenge.
If you are looking for a commercial drone operator in Kenya, please drop me a mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org