Kenya Airways (KQ, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) and UK-based advanced air mobility (AAM) company Skyports have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to launch permanent unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in the African country by 3Q or 4Q21.

The agreement is in line with Kenya Airways’ aspirations to lead the application of drone technology in the region through its wholly-owned subsidiary Fahari Aviation, which would offer UAV training, operations, and traffic management services.

“This partnership with Skyports will support our diversification plans in drone technology application. This will give us access to available equipment and established operations that will lay the foundation for the Kenyan and regional drone market through our drone and emerging aviation technology subsidiary, Fahari Aviation,” explained Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka.

Joint efforts with Skyports had already begun across drone delivery and inspection use cases, the companies said in a statement on April 27.

In the coming three months, the aim of the partnership is to explore the commercial viability and impact of a variety of medical, logistical, and inspection use cases alongside Kenya’s leading public and private institutions. The target for the launch of the first drone delivery flights is the third and fourth quarters of this year.

Skyports' chief executive, Duncan Walker, said: “Our partnership with Kenya Airways can unlock significant opportunities for drone deliveries and inspections in Kenya. This will create time and cost savings for our customers and contribute to the growth of the country’s tech and aviation ecosystem.” He added that the agreement “underscores the growth potential of Skyports’ tech-agnostic operator approach as a flexible offering suited to varying global market requirements.”

He said that his company’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operational experience put it in a unique position to support Kenya Airways. Skyports has obtained regulatory approvals to fly the UK’s first BVLOS medical drone deliveries for the National Health Service, with operations currently underway, and it operated the UK Royal Mail’s first drone parcel delivery in Scotland in December 2020.

Astral Aerial Solutions, an affiliate of Astral Aviation (8V, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta), is an existing Kenyan operator deploying commercial drones throughout Kenya and the region. According to its website, it proffers the Flyox cargo drone with a payload capability of up to 1,850 kilogrammes, a range of 1,200 kilometres, and a loitering time of up to 26 hours in surveillance mode. It also operates a smaller drone, the Wingcopter, which is capable of eight hours of flight carrying a payload of up to four kilogrammes.