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Drones firm in plea to reduce fees for would be owners

By JAMES KARIUKI
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An unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) company has called for a review of licensing fees imposed on would-be owners terming the newly gazetted charges prohibitive.

Astral Aerial Services Business Development Manager Kush Gadhia said while drones have become popular recreational gadgets as well as must-have commercial gadgets, requirement for getting a permit are locking out many prospective owners.

“Drones are very popular for shooting movies, wedding ceremonies and for recording music videos. But to charge visiting movie makers Sh150,000 to operate a drone deals the industry a deafening blow,” he said.

According to the gazette circular signed by Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, commercial drone owners must pay Sh100,000 for an operator’s certificate while commercial drone pilots will part with Sh40,000 and a further Sh40,000 when renewing their flying permits after one year.

The recreational drone pilot’s license will take one back Sh20,000 and a similar amount spent when renewing the same.

Register drones kit

“No one will acquire a drone for recreational use when the licensing fee stands at Sh20,000 and a further Sh20,000 to register the drones kit. We need to allow the subsector to launch and then moot licensing fees that nurture its growth not stifle it,” he said.

Charges for registering private and commercial drones are Sh30,000 and Sh50,000 respectively.

Mr Gadhia asked the government to convene a stakeholders’ meeting to review the fees saying as a young industry, charges should be reasonable to excite the market and then rise organically as Kenyans appreciate use of drones.

The business executive said the country was yet to develop its drones industry value chain with many companies still awaiting permission to invest in pilots training schools.

“We are talking about a market that has no history of drones use in an extensive and commercial sense. People use drones to count elephants, shoot ceremonies and music videos. We need to rethink the charges,” he said.

Form a club

Sh70,000 will be paid by any group of drone pilots coming together to form a club and a further Sh40,000 for renewal of their licenses. Drone pilot graduates will upon certification pay Sh100,000 for all categories.

Mr Gadhia, whose group of companies has been dealing in air cargo business for 16 years, said they had invested in putting up a drone pilots’ training school.

“We have also invested in a drones shop at Nairobi’s Westlands area that will soon be open to the public to acquire drones,” he added.

The gazette notice also slashed the Sh5 million fine to Sh2 million fine for anyone found illegally flying a drone.

Use of drones continues to gain momentum the world over for security surveillance, wildlife photography as well as commercial use in cargo transportation.

Kenya has lagged in licensing drones for commercial use where their flying largely remains prohibited.