Fellow Nigerians, You shall not fly!!!

Gandalf

I’m guessing it’s no longer news that the Nigerian Civi Aviation Agency (NCAA) has decided to stick the middle finger at anyone foolish enough to think that they could join the rest of the world in the drone innovation thing. Forget that some of us think drones will rule the world in the next decade, the NCAA says you cannot fly, and you shall not fly.

I took a quick sample and counted a grand total of zero people surprised by the NCAA’s action. But I still think it’s actually a grand joke, and someone from NCAA will eventually come out to scream “You all got punked!”. But let’s assume they’re actually serious – what could it mean for innovation?

The first thing we noticed about the NCAA’s statement is that there is actually no classification for what it was banning. All remote controlled aerial flights were banned “fellow Nigerians” style.

ABACHA

Over the last year, Anakle Labs has invested significant resources in UAV research. Part of our research has included funding young university students who were building drone applications for their final year research. One of the ideas we had at the lab was building a drone which could fly between blood banks and hospitals in remote areas or congested cities, to deliver emergency blood and medicine. One of the young people we funded decided to take on this challenge.

So far, this chap has built the drone, and got high scores for effort. But of course the big deal is the testing and execution of the idea with hospitals (or staging areas). This is where the problem from NCAA’s ‘ban’ comes in.

The rumoured ban seems to assume only companies can own drones. What if, God forbid, an individual wants to own a drone – or builds one? So let’s look at these kids who built drones in university – these drones cost less than $3000 max. How does the NCAA expect them to test out their ideas? The rumoured ban gives no way to get experimental permits, which researchers would definitely need, in order to innovate. NCAA is telling us that these kids can’t even experiment.

If you told these kids, you must register, drone must meet XYZ specs, and must have QRS reported, it would work well for regulation, and allow the kids do their research.

Most of the backers of the rumoured ban have stated the need exists for regulation, for security reasons. I agree, yet disagree. Nigeria routinely abuses the ability to ban things. Photography bans during the military era still messes with our heads. People are not allowed to take photos in most public places, which is the reason we still don’t know what Aso Rock looks like (Ehe, Oga Tolu Ogunlesi, how far now? Show us some chanji).

So to regulate, I would only agree if the regulation is based on clearly defined protocols. It should be seamless. In truth, if the regulation was clear, and seamless, the Nigerian drone community would have embraced it, and you would get near 100% compliance.

All hope is not lost.

A guy claiming to lead the “Drone Club” has said the NCAA has actually not banned drones, or has not set ridiculous registration requirements. I do pray this is true.

In the meanwhile, a group of UAS 1 enthusiasts, including some serious players are working to get a ‘lobby’ together, and hopefully work with the NCAA to sort out the various kinks drone regulation throws up. Anakle Labs is of course invested in this process and will support in anyway possible.

As an individual, I have always believed one of the ways for Africa to grow is embracing new technology as they start out. Catching the GSM wave as it started has changed the continent, and continues to change it. Who knows what drones could do? We can’t get on that wave if we rush out to ban whatever we don’t understand.

1 = This is yet another acronym for drones