We have come a long way from Polaroid slides and Kodak prints to having cameras with high quality video capability as standard ware in a mobile phone. Drone photography is yet another dynamic leap forward offering photographers new angles to their trade, especially for tourism use. But is Uganda's regulatory framework around the use of drones hindering its potential?
A remotely piloted aircraft system, or "drone" as it is commonly referred to, can be simply described as a piece of technology flying unmanned. The control is usually by the pilot on the ground while the drone enjoys the skies. Drones have found a full range of exciting deployments from supply of emergency services like blood and vaccines to spraying of crops to delivering bombs.
For Uganda and all its natural beauty, it should be in national interest to allow and actively facilitate the very best pictures to be taken of the sights using drone photography. Allowing tourists to take high quality drone footage would provide invaluable exposure for the country and its appeal as a tourist destination.
However, getting approvals for a tourist to bring a drone to Uganda is like getting the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle.
Drone regulation in Uganda
Drone regulation in Uganda is governed by the Civil Aviation Authority ("CAA") under The Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) Regulations 2020. The process of importing a drone into Uganda must start months before arrival.
A tourist importing a drone into Uganda would be subject to no objection letters from the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Defence, clearances from the Uganda Revenue Authority and a permit from the CAA upon payment of approximately USD70. A drone imported without compliance with this process will be impounded upon entry into Uganda and only returned to the owners on their exit.
The Regulations came into force in February 2020. It was not possible to establish how many permits CAA had issued to tourists.
Given their multi-purpose potential, the security concerns around drones is well understood. However, there is a middle ground between security concerns and national interests to showcase Uganda's beauty. It isn't every drone that is a security risk and it isn't every inch of ground in Uganda that is a security concern.
A quick survey of the regulation of drones shows similar restrictions on importation and use of drones in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. A tourist to South Africa however has no worries about clearances and approvals and will enjoy their trip and drone experiences provided the drone is used for a private purpose, not in restricted airspaces and does not violate the privacy of other persons.
The regulatory approach should focus more on intended areas of use and the drone capacity. A drone flying over the airport or State House should be all means not be approved. But we should be pleased to see tourists using drone photography at Murchison Falls or over the Sempagama Hot Springs.
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