Malawi launches Africa’s first humanitarian drone testing corridor

Malawi will be home to the first air corridor in Africa to test the application of unmanned aircraft system for humanitarian and development use.

The humanitarian drone testing corridor, announced today by the government of Malawi and UNICEF will become operational by April 2017. It will facilitate testing for projects related to imagery, connectivity and transport.

The launch builds on efforts by UNICEF and other global development organizations to work with governments as well as private sector partners to explore how UAS, also called drones, can drive progress on issues ranging from environmental conservation to health care delivery in low income countries.

“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding,” Jappie Mhango, Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, said in a statement. “The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.”

Humanitarian test corridors allow governments to create a safe space for UAS operators to perform test flights, work out kinks, and make improvements. In Malawi, the details of the testing corridor were determined in consultation with the Malawi Department of Civil Aviation. Its maximum distance will be 40 kilometers to test transport drones, with an altitude limit of 500 meters above ground and a planned timespan of one to two years.

Humanitarian drone testing corridors provide groups working on humanitarian applications of UAS technology an opportunity to demonstrate value. Successful projects may convince more governments to allow drone systems they might not be open to otherwise.

 

Establishing a regulatory framework is the key first step to getting drones in the air, said Amir Nayeri, principal at Provence Capital, whose investments include Discern Data, which leverages unmanned aerial vehicles to collect data on natural resources.

“The fact is, you can’t have a free for all, with a bunch of drones flying around at different altitudes doing different things,” he told Devex.

He suggested that governments identify specific areas in which they believe drones can help transform their economies and develop their societies then pass regulations that reflect those needs, as Malawi has done.

Discern, he said, works “very closely with government officials to help them understand the industrial and environmental uses to help them get a breadth and depth on the power of deploying drones in their countries.”

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