Kenyan cargo airline Astral Aviation plans to launch the first cargo drone operation in Africa by the end of this year. Based in Nairobi and operating cargo flights in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, Astral Aviation has established Astral Aerial Solutions as a dedicated subsidiary to handle the Kenyan freight specialist’s expansion into the niche drone market in Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. The company also has established a drone technology academy in Kenya that trains youth to operate the vehicles.

Plans call for Astral Aerial Solutions to transport mail and parcels for mining and oil and gas companies and to provide spray services for agriculture, Sanjeev Gadhia, founder and CEO of Astral Aviation, told AIN.

The company plans initially to operate three drones of various sizes and capabilities. The first drone, dubbed FlyOx and made by Spain’s Singular Aircraft, can carry 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of cargo and flies to a range of 1,300 kilometers (800 miles). The cargo drone costs $1.5 million. The smaller drones can carry five and 10 kilograms of cargo, respectively.

Gadhia said Astral Aerial Solutions targets customers both from the public and private sector. “From the public sector we are closely working with the postal service, the Ministry of Transport, and Ministry of Agriculture,” he said. “From the private sector, we are targeting oil and gas companies, mining companies, and agricultural companies. We also want to transport school books in very remote areas.”

Road and airport infrastructure in rural Africa present a challenge. Seventy percent of Africans live in rural areas, and Astral’s service would primarily benefit them.

“We were looking at what we can do beyond the airport,” Ghadia said. “The challenge in Africa is with airport infrastructure. You can be anywhere in the world but you can have a mobile phone with GPS so we will be able to reach you. Distance should not be an excuse.”

Astral Aerial Solutions, which recently got approval from the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority, plans to start testing its drones in July, in time for commercial operation of the cargo drones by year-end.

South Africa became the first country to adopt drone services in Africa, and Rwanda plans to soon follow. Recently, the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority enacted a drone law. The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority is also drafting a drone regulation that guides the safe operation of drones in the country.

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