Astral Aviation (8V, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) has signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) for two Lucas F-250 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for cargo flights across Kenya, Business Daily has reported. The carrier plans to launch commercial drone operations in 2019 and grow the UAV fleet in the future.

If Astral Aviation delivers on its promises, it will become Kenya's first commercial UAV operator and probably the first airline in the world to deploy drones for revenue cargo services.

Each of the Lucas F-250 UAVs will be able to carry up to 250 kilogrammes of freight, including goods loaded on Euro-type pallets. The drone type has the capacity to operate autonomously and has a range of over 1,500 kilometres.

In 2019, Astral Aviation intends to buy another ten UAVs from Dubai-based Falcon Drones Technology.

The carrier plans to use the UAVs for freight, post, medical supplies, and aid deliveries across the more remote areas of Kenya where there is no infrastructure for traditional aircraft operations. Initially, the carrier intends to focus on domestic services with a hub at Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta, but in the future, it plans to launch international flights to and from Kenya. In the third phase of growth, Astral Aviation plans to establish drone hubs at major cargo gateways across Africa and specialise in the "last mile" deliveries across the whole continent.

The carrier's plans are subject to regulatory approval and, in general, the legalisation of the commercial use of drones in Kenya. Just a few days ago, Astral Aviation criticised the Members of Parliament for blocking a new law that would formalise the legal framework for UAV operations in the country.

In terms of its manned aircraft, Astral Aviation currently operates one B727-200(F) and one DC-9-30(F). It also wet-leases a B747-400(F) from Air Atlanta Icelandic (CC, Reykjavik Keflavik) for its European services to London Stansted and Liège. Domestically, the carrier also operates Fokker 27s.