Innovation and diversification are necessary in aviation

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The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to global society and economy and in the aviation industry it has highlighted a need for innovation and diversification, Hawkins Musili, general manager at Fahari Aviation, Kenya Airways tells ACW.

New technology and new ways of thinking need to be adopted to move forward.

“2020 was an unprecedented year, as an airline we realised that we needed to meet the challenges of the “new normal” and reset in our thinking and approach. New challenges need new solutions now and in future to bring both resilience, and sustained success,” he says.

From this, Fahari Aviation was born. “Fahari Aviation was created from an internal process for two major reasons – One was out of the necessity for the airline to develop business units that could create new revenue streams in the wake of low passenger numbers as a result of the pandemic.

“The second reason was to tap into Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Technology – a fast-growing and but largely untapped market in Africa. Fahari Aviation offers a one-stop shop for both individuals and corporates looking to tap into this industry from training of pilots, enterprise solutions and traffic management,” Musili notes.

Fahari’s creation sits within the de-risking strategic pillar for Kenya Airways group. What exactly does it mean to de-risk the business? Musili explains: “The latest 2020 Africa air transport report from the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) shows how air routes in Africa were decimated during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Financially, 2020 was an exceptionally difficult year in history, it said, with estimated passenger revenue lost by African airlines in 2020 at $10.21 billion. The number of scheduled passengers carried by African airlines dropped from 95 million in 2019 to 34.7 million in 2020, representing a year-on-year decline of 63.7%.

“In the case of Kenya Airways, we uplifted 1.8 million passengers in 2020, a drop of 65.7% from 2019. Of this number, approximately 70% flew with us between January to March 2020, indicating severely depressed demand as a result of the pandemic.

Fahari Aviation, as mentioned was derived from an initiative to “de-risk the business” and develop a subsidiary of a strong aviation stakeholder. In 2020, the engineering arm of the KQ business took the challenge to come up with ideas that would impact the airline’s back to business strategy and aid in de-risking & diversifying revenues streams in the wake of low passenger numbers.

“Aligning with our purpose of the sustainable development of Africa, Fahari Aviation through Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) was one of the ideas that came to fruition focusing on using disruptive technology to realise KQ’s mission of “Sustainable development of Africa”.”

The future

Musili believes that the importance of UAVs in the logistics industry will only grow. “In the next few years, considering current environment and the technological developments in the world; drones are becoming an important part of the rapidly expanding modern logistics industry. Cargo transportation is rapidly shifting from traditional standards to new generation transportation vehicles.”

It is acknowledged that whilst drone innovation comes with abundant opportunities, there are also many challenges hindering their wide use in logistics.

One such that Musili notes is their limited load and flight capability. “Adding extra sources of power or mechanisms to improve their load capacity adds to the cost of the manufacturing. Not just the cost, but increasing the load also reduces the flight time of these technologies,” he says.

“Another challenge that drones face today is that of air traffic management, especially in areas with higher air traffic concentration. Experts are trying to keep manned vehicles distinct from the unmanned ones. But this creates complex traffic management systems as they cannot build a highly intensive system solely for a few drones nor can they let the drones interfere with the existing air traffic routes.

“The growing popularity of drones is also posing multiple security threats. Many drones are now being fitted with cameras to enable video footage or live streaming of the flight. This application may turn out to be beneficial in some cases, but there has been an increase in using such drones to wrongly shoot in authorised locations, violating privacy policies.

“While it is apparent that as useful and productive as these drones can be, they also come with some risk. Like there are ways to enhance the beneficial features in them, regulatory laws, and policies, are strictly being applied to help in reducing the risks and building a better future for drone technology.

“Last year, the Ministry Of Transport published UAS regulations giving the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), the mandate for registration and operation of drones in Kenya. Under the new regulation, those interested in operating drones need to be trained pilots and obtain a security clearance from the Ministry of Defence. Requiring drone pilots to identify and secure proper documentation before operating is a measure squarely enacted to ensure safety during the use of drones, for national security purposes and protection of privacy for individuals as well as putting value for a credible and well-regulated industry.”

A sustainable option

Are drones the answer to sustainability issues that loom over the industry? As we enter a new era of advanced mobility that includes innovations once thought impossible, it is becoming clear that it is no longer adequate to do things the same way.

“Drones offer many solutions as we transition to a more sustainable world for tourism and business travellers. In health, in agriculture, manufacturing and the utility sector among others, drones are providing practical, safe and low-cost solution that minimise downtime and supports business efforts,” says Musili.

“The accelerating pace of development and adoption of drones is likely to continue driven by the cumulative nature of technological change and the convergence of technologies into new combinations.

“Harnessing drone technologies – combined with action to address persistent gaps in access and use of existing technologies to develop innovations – could be transformative in achieving Sustainable Development and producing a more prosperous, sustainable, healthy, and inclusive Africa.

“As technology continues to grow and play a larger role in consumers’ lives, industries have transformed and adapted as well. The socio-economic impact of this disruptive technology is evident in the development of Kenya and Africa at large, especially in areas where infrastructure development is lagging.

“Kenya Airways is proactively invested in driving the country’s Big 4 agenda by supporting direct impact government entities. This has been scaled through the adoption of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that provides an interlink between technology and businesses thus enabling organisations to improve and transform the way they do business.

“So far, we have developed proof of concept with KenGen, confirming the use of unmanned aerial automobiles to enhance safety margins, decrease prices, and expedite its modernisation programmes by way of drone expertise.

“The collaboration showcased drones’ skill to be utilised throughout the utility sector whereas complying with security, safety and regulatory requirements for aviation. With the Kenya Wildlife Services, Fahari Aviation demonstrated how drones could add value to society by participating in the Tsavo Ecosystem Wildlife Census.

“For Kenya and the East African region drones present an opportunity to leverage on emerging technologies for sustainable development.”