Friday, 16 September 2016

On The Knotty Guidelines; High Cost of Registering or Obtaining Drone Licence in Nigeria


Sometime in May 2016, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, issued a press release prohibiting the unauthorized use or flying of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs) otherwise commonly known as drones. Compared to global standards, the NCAA guideline for registering and obtaining a drone licence in Nigeria is byzantine, suffocating and inadvertently stifles innovation. How do we explain a situation where it costs thousands of dollars (some say nearly $4,000) to register or fly a drone in Nigeria whereas it costs just $5 to do the same thing in the United States of America? Repressive regulatory agencies have a way of smothering competitiveness, entrepreneurship and startups in Nigeria. This is one the reasons Nigeria is consistently ranked very low on the ease of doing business index.

Uses of UAVs/RPAs/Drones

Drone technology is one of the innovations revolutionizing the way we hitherto did things. The deployment of drones cuts across: military application (surveillance and counterterrorism attacks), security and safety monitoring (there is self-flying security guard drone developed by United States-based Aptonomy and a similar one by Secom) to medical and emergency services (drones are poised to carry emergency blood supplies in Rwanda), border/immigration control, humanitarian services, aerial mapping and photography, agriculture, wildlife conservation, internet services (Facebook is developing solar-powered drones capable of delivering internet services), courier or postal delivery (Amazon, DHL), amongst others. 


Below is NCAA's press release titled:

 “NCAA ISSUES SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR DRONE OPERATORS”.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has taken cognizance of the growing requests for the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) leading to its proliferation in Nigeria and has therefore issued safety guidelines accordingly.

In recent times, RPA/UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are being deployed for commercial and recreational purposes in the country without adequate security clearance. Therefore with the preponderance of these operations particularly in a non – segregated airspace, there has to be proactive safety guidelines.

The development of the use of RPA nationwide has emerged with somewhat predictable safety concerns and security threats. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is yet to publish Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), as far as certification and operation of civil use of RPA is concerned.

NCAA has therefore put in place Regulations/Advisory Circular to guide the certification and operations of civil RPA in the Nigerian airspace. This is contained in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs 2015 Part 8.8.1.33) and Implementing Standards (Nig.CARs 2015 Part IS.8.8.1.33).

Therefore no government agency, organisation or an individual will launch an RPA/UAV in the Nigerian airspace for any purpose whatsoever without obtaining requisite approvals/permit from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Office of National Security Adviser (NSA).

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) wishes to reiterate that all applicants and holders of permits to operate RPA/Drones must strictly be guided by safety guidelines.

In addition to the foregoing, operators must ensure strict compliance with the conditions stipulated in their permits and the requirements of the Nig.CARs. Violators shall be sanctioned according to the dictates of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs).  END

The implication of this is that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, expects EVERY drone operator (both commercial and private or recreational users) to apply for and obtain permission or licence before flying a drone. Requiring that drones be registered or license obtained isn’t necessarily a bad move but the other conditions are effing stringent.

In addition to requiring prospective drone operators to submit potpourri documentations, the NCAA stipulates that a publication in the official gazette be made, a security clearance must be obtained possibly from the Office of the national Security Adviser or the State Security Service and payment of an annual utilization fee (N100, 000), payment of a non-refundable N500, 000.00 (five hundred thousand Naira) processing fee. (Bank Draft made payable to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority).

The drone registration process in Nigeria is anticipated to commence six months before permits are necessary. Given the inherent bottlenecks, this means it could take up to a year to sort the paper work out.

Details of the drone registration process in Nigeria:

PUBLICATION IN THE OFFICIAL GAZETTE

The NCAA will in the process of carrying out the technical evaluation of the application cause the notice of application to be published in the Official Government Gazette, the fee of which shall be borne by the applicant.

SECURITY CLEARANCE
No person shall operate an aircraft in Nigeria without security clearance issued by the Government. Applicants duly completed Personal History Statement (PHS) forms and other relevant documents will be forwarded by the Authority to the Ministry responsible for Aviation for purpose of security clearance. The Directors of the company are expected to report at the Headquarters of the State Security Service in Abuja for documentation.

VALIDITY OF PERMIT:
The validity of a drone permit shall be three (3) years.

ANNUAL UTILIZATION FEE:

Upon receipt of PAAS, an annual utilization fee of N100,000.00 shall be paid to the NCAA.

The Way Forward:

No doubt that NCAA’s safety concerns are well grounded and well-intentioned. It is also understandable that drones could be a security threat and all that but all of these are not sufficient reasons to impose byzantine rules, requirements for flying drones in Nigeria. The NCAA should categorize drone users into say, two groups: commercial and personal or recreational, depending on the capacity of the drone. You don’t ask someone who uses a basic drone for photography or shooting movies to pay thousands of dollars to register a drone that he or she bought for less than $500. Granted the scenarios and threat dynamics are quite different, the NCAA should take a cue from global best practices and particularly the United States which boasts a relaxed drone licensing guideline. In addition to charging about $5 to licence a hobby or recreational drone, the United States Federal Aviation Authority, FAA, stipulates inter alia that, registration should be done online via the FAA website (very streamlined process), drone users must be at least 13 years old, registration is valid for three years.

Written by:
© Don Okereke
(Security Junkie/Analyst/Consultant, Ex-serviceman, Writer)
Follow me on Twitter: @donokereke
September, 2016