Kenyan Filmmakers Want the Government to Remove Ban On Use of Drones


By Lilian Mutegi

The government ban on use of remote piloted automated systems (RPAS) has had a crippling effect on the filming industry and now shows the potential to sink it altogether.

Already several international film projects have been diverted to other countries that allow the RPAS. The local film industry runs the risk of losing millions of dollars in business unless the government lifts the ban on this ultra modern technology.

According to The Star Newspaper the local film industry indicate that 20 film projects — all international commercials, valued at Sh200 million — have been lost over the past few months and a rising weariness among overseas producers could send other projects elsewhere.

“We have put our case to the relevant government agencies including Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and are waiting for appropriate response,” said Jim Shamoon, the MD Bluesky Films and chairman of the Film Producers Guild of Kenya.

The guild members source and manage international film productions in Kenya and are the main stakeholders in the field.

The concerns by the film fraternity are confirmed by Kenya Film Commission CEO Lizzie Chongoti. She said the body is liaising with relevant authorities over the matter.

Government concerns on use of drones were raised after a foreign media crew flew a drone close to the presidential pavilion at a national day celebration and were compounded by other safety issues that are currently facing the country.

The initial indication was that the government would be prompt to provide guidelines on use of the technology but has taken nearly one year and stakeholders are worried about the long delay, more so at a time when the gadget is the tool of choice in their field both for efficiency and cost effectiveness.

It is mostly used for aerial photography flying at a tree level and the 1-2kg robot fitted with a lightweight high definition camera is perfect for filming in crowded locations especially in jungles, forests or between buildings, replacing the helicopter that have been traditionally used for such functions.

For added convenience, drones are controlled from a remote location on a laptop and the film director is able to monitor shots from the screen, offering convenience not provided by the old school helicopter filming. It also eliminates the potential risks and heavy losses from helicopter accidents.

“We are as concerned about security as the government but we also feel that it has taken too long for the government to provide guidelines and this has adversely affected the industry,” says Shamoon.

He adds that international filming productions are undertaken in specific schedules, making it easy for government to supervise use of drones in the projects.

In June 2015, the Government stopped plans to launch a wildlife surveillance drone at Ol Pejeta Conservancy over security concerns.

Ol Pejeta had planned to launch the drone in June after successfully testing a model drone by the US based manufacturer Airware. Apart from surveillance, the drone would have seen Kenya launch its first virtual tourism village to be beamed real-time to classes, colleges and other forums via the internet.

The drone was released for a two week trial run at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy ahead of its launch. Ol Pejeta received approvals to launch the drone from relevant agencies in the government and a two week test-drive conducted successfully for the two kilogram Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The ban on use of Drones was introduced in January 2015. Kenya placed restrictions on drones that, for all intents and purposes, amounted to a complete ban on their use. Anyone who wants to fly one has to secure permission from both the Ministry of Defense and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).