Federal Government steps up efforts to develop regulations for the operation of drone system in Nigeria to ensure safe and efficient air space

By Pita Ochai

With the improvement in drone technology, the Federal Government projects that Nigeria will rake in $1billion from its sale by 2018. The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika stated this at a symposium organized by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). “Industry forecast expect that total drone sales will reach new heights in 2017/2018, with a billion dollars in revenues and about 4 million units sold,” he said.

Hadi Sirika, Minister of State for Aviation
Hadi Sirika, Minister of State for Aviation

Sirika said that government plans to develop regulations for the operation of drone system in the country to ensure safe and efficient air space for stakeholders, people and members of the public. “The intent of the symposium is to ensure that we have interacted enough and shared ideas on how to keep the airspace safe and efficient. We will continue to dialogue and interact with stakeholders worldwide so that we can get it right,” he said.

Drones are transforming industries such as agriculture, film making, and real estate as well as creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

On the regulation to ensure smooth operation of the innovation, Sirika said: “We are working hard to integrate RPA operations into our airspace as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We need to incorporate RPA and their users into our culture of safety and responsibility, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t stifle the enthusiasm for this growing industry.” He noted that while stakeholders are making valuable inputs on regulations through public sensitization, the government is making substantial progress in integrating RPAS into the Nigerian airspace structure.

The government through Civil Aviation Authority is establishing a RPA safety team that will include various stakeholders in the aviation industry. The team will analyze safety data developed, to identify emerging threats that RPAS may pose to aircraft, people, and property. They will also develop mitigation strategies to address these threats and prevent future accidents. The team will make recommendations that will assist the government to create RPA registration system in the shortest possible time. The registration is expected to help connect RPAS with its operator in cases where people fail to comply with rules and guidelines.

Sirika added that the availability and easy registration of purchased drones by individuals would not be as it done in the United States. “Our system, tradition, values and culture is really different from that of the US. There is no gun control in the US, everybody can hold a gun and protect himself there but that is not the case in Nigeria because we are different people with different values and standards. So also, we cannot afford to allow drones to continue to roam about our airspace uncontrolled and unregulated,” he said.

Dr Olumuyiwa Aliu, President of the Council of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) said the innovation would only succeed if there are proper regulations. He posited that all over the world, new businesses and humanitarian operations leverage on the innovation and the opportunities they offer. “The flipside of this dynamic growth in opportunity is the challenge of balancing safety and security with efficiency and sustainability. This is particularly the case with regards to the existing manned aviation environment. The onus of succeeding in this challenge obviously falls on the shoulders of regulators, who must work to create and establish a well-structured and appropriate regulatory framework,” he said. The challenge, he noted, is that these unmanned aircraft are designed, developed and used for hundreds of diverse applications such as recreational videotaping, humanitarian support, wildlife monitoring and cargo delivery.

African countries are facing increasing pressure to open the door widely for unmanned aircraft. But while their socio-economic benefits seem clear, the tendencies to rush headlong into unmanned aircraft systems have to be avoided.

Aliu stressed the need for a coherent regulatory framework in which all stakeholders understand their roles in ensuring safe operations whether manned or unmanned.

Iyabo Sosina, Secretary General, African Civil Aviation Commission, urged African countries to take advantage of the opportunities available with the introduction of drones into the aviation industry. He, however, added that they may pose risk to the aviation sector. “Drones are used in various fields such as the military, for medical purposes, photography, air transportation and others but uncontrolled RPAS operation may create risk to security and civil aviation. The essence of the workshop is to develop safe regulations for the operation of RPAS in the airspace and stakeholders should not see drones as a threat but rather, it should be treated as a new aircraft which requires regulations,” he said.

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