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April 12, 2024
Kenya Airways moves to tap into electric urban air mobility
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Kenya Airways is spooling up to introduce East Africa’s first electric urban air taxis around the 2026-28 timeframe, as the company moves to tap into commercial opportunities offered by new aircraft technologies. The move also forms part of the carrier’s strategy to mitigate risk from possible shifts in the market following the disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic, and emerging technologies that could change the course of business.  Kenya Airways moves to tap into electric urban air mobility.

The service will be operated by Fahari Aviation, Kenya Airways unmanned air services subsidiary. It will initially target high net-worth individuals who currently use helicopters to get about.   The client base is, however, expected to expand and become more inclusive quickly, as the lower unit cost of operating electric aircraft could potentially slash as much as 60 percent off the current cost of hiring a helicopter, says Fahari Aviation GM Hawkins Musili.  We are looking at the 2026-28, timeframe for the introduction of an urban air mobility solution in Kenya,” he told Air Insight.    

Among the potential use cases under consideration are short-distance commuter services, sight-seeing, and transfer solutions within a 100-kilometer radius of the capital, Nairobi. The range is expected to increase in tandem with technology development, as longer endurance electric aircraft come onto the market.  

Kenya Airways is looking at the small airports within a 200km radius of Nairobi, as candidates for electric air mobility because the thin traffic does not justify the deployment of conventional aircraft across such short sectors.   It currently costs $1,700 to hire a helicopter for a 200-kilometer flight. Assuming a passenger load of four, plus a 60 percent reduction in user cost from electric mobility, we could see an individual pay $170 for the same trip. Further reductions in cost beyond that would open up air mobility services to a lot more people.  

Fahari has so far signed MoU’s with Eve, Embraer’s unmanned aircraft division to jointly develop the market for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft across sub-Saharan Africa and UK-based logistics company Skyports to collaborate in launching drone services in Kenya.   

According to Musili, air taxis will initially operate, manned by one pilot in 2026, but should then quickly transit to unmanned operations by 2028 or 2030. The move to pilotless operations will be largely determined, by the pace at which regulators move to develop the protocols for such operations and public acceptance.  

As part of the ramp-up to electric urban air mobility, Fahari started offering drone services in 2020. The company expects revenues from this segment to grow from $2million this year to around $20 million annually by 2026.  We see the market growing into double digits in 2-3 years’ time depending on how we project drones and convert users and how hard we push,” Musili says.  

In anticipation of an unmanned future, Fahari Aviation has been working with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenya Airports Authority to develop regulations for the safe operation of drones and urban commuter aircraft in controlled airspace. Discussions are also underway to develop the infrastructure such as charging ports at outposts, that will support the operations of electric aircraft.  

As a burgeoning industry, we need a lot of stakeholder engagement. Drones are now seen from a hobby perspective by the public and that way, some risks could emerge from operating drones. We are creating a working group through which we can engage with the civil aviation and airport authorities to develop an air traffic management ecosystem that accommodates unmanned urban air mobility operations,” Musili says.  

The public needs to be sold on the need for training before they can operate drones, especially in the existence of air traffic to ensure they are not pausing a risk to manned flights.  We need to make sure that we are creating a responsible space, otherwise safety breaches would simply shut the entire industry down,” Musili says adding that more investment is needed in air navigation services to create the infrastructure that will support beyond the visual line of sight flights between cities.  

For its part, Fahari Aviation is offering remote pilot license training up to designated flight examiner levels for multi-rotor and fixed-wing drones. The school provides training in the basic line of sight flying where the drone is operated within the line of sight of the pilot and beyond visual line of sight training which introduces learners to the more sophisticated aspects of drone operations.   

Currently, Fahari also offers commercial drone services to private organizations in the conservation, power, and logistics industries. Fahari is looking at surveys and mapping, filming, precision agriculture, light cargo logistics, surveillance, and inspection in various sectors such as power lines, and rail tracks as potential growth markets across the East African region.  

There is a lot of opportunity for using drones and what we are doing at Fahari is to contact all manner of industry stakeholders to introduce drone technology, showing them what drones can do and the associated cost efficiencies that they can bring to organizations,” explains Musili.  

Michael Wakabi
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