By Roland Ohaeri
The use of drones has received strong attention in Nigeria as the Nigeria Unmanned Systems and Robotics Association (NUSA) gathered experts and stakeholders to discuss benefits and challenges of drones in the economy. This is in furtherance of global efforts to ensure drones are operated with acceptable level of safety and security.
The operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has brought a new phase in the aviation industry globally and in Africa. UAVs popularly called drones have become a major focus of civil aviation over the last 10 years, with unprecedented potentials to pose threats, on the one hand, and huge benefits to the civil aviation industry and the economy, on the other.
The global civil aviation industry including the International aviation-based organizations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI), Civil Air Navigation Organization (CANSO), drones manufacturers and all partners in the aviation industry, led by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is currently developing guidelines to ensure seamless and safe operation of drones, and more importantly the safe co-existence of drones with the manned aircraft in the airspace.
States have also been tasked in the interim to develop data and regulatory frameworks that could help address challenges posed by drones, while also promoting the unfettered exploitation of the economic benefits of drones.
NUSA, a non-profit organization in Nigeria, led by its President, AVM (Rtd) Olufemi Idowu, recently held a conference in Lagos under the theme, “Employment of Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) in Nigeria, Prospects and Challenges”, during which civil and military experts as well other stakeholders in drones industry sought the best way forward for drones operation in Nigeria. The Nigerian Customs Service, students and drone manufacturers made strong inputs on the need to develop capacity for drones and also ensure the best use of drones in Nigeria.
AVM (Rtd.) Idowu, who is also the Chairman of Noble Logistics, an approved RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) operator, says Nigeria has much to benefit from drones, as he urges stakeholders to continue in efforts to address existing challenges to unlock the huge benefits..
The Director of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in charge of General Aviation, Capt. Dele Sasegbon, says the NCAA has taken steps to streamline the operation of drones in Nigeria as a way to effectively regulate the sub-sector. According to him, owners and operators of small drones are directed to register with the NCAA. The CAA, he says, is still working out modalities for the regulation of large drones.
Capt. Sasegbon emphasizes the need to ensure safe co-existence of drones and manned aircraft in Nigeria’s airspace, as also shared by Rasheed Mosuro, who coordinated the event.
The issues of safety and security of drones operation in Nigeria is also a key concern to the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) in Nigeria, according to Col. Ayokunle Owolabi of the NSA. He states that strategies are being employed to mitigate the challenges on the regulation of RPAS in Nigerina airspace, some of which include sensitization and awareness campaign, regular review of RPAS advisory circular as well as enforcement of regulations.
He says NSA coordinates the regulation of remotely piloted aircraft system in Nigeria’s airspace in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders such as the NCAA, Nigerian Airspace Management (NAMA), Nigerian Air Force (NAF), among others.
Future of Drones In Nigeria
While drones mark a watershed in civil aviation, the successful development of effective and efficient regulatory systems for drones through the efforts of various stakeholders in Nigeria and globally would determine the extent of benefits and hazards that will emanate from drone usage in the near future.
The low level of awareness of the issues surrounding drones operation among drone operators makes the effort of NUSA and other stakeholders critical to UAV industry development in Nigeria.
The association says its primary object is to foster, develop and promote unmanned systems and robotics technologies in Nigeria. Its membership includes individuals from government, military, industry, and academia.
Drones provide a multi-billion dollar industry, that will overcome some of the challenges posed by poor transport infrastructure, among others.
Unmanned aircraft have already brought unprecedented benefits to various economic sectors including agriculture, maritime, oil and gas, healthcare, leisure, etc. and there is growing demand for experts in drones operation.
The number of drones operators and those seeking registration has risen to tens of thousands over the last few years in Nigeria. There is also a rising number of individuals and outfits engaged in drones maintenance and manufacturing in Nigeria.