UP in the Air

The Growing use of Drones in Ethiopia

The growing use of drones in cinematography is helping to increase the quality of Ethiopian-made films and music videos. However, the laws that govern the import and usage of drones are vague, with many people not aware of the agency that is responsible for regulating them. Many people have even been forced to return the drones they bring in from foreign countries. This has led to smuggled drones becoming the most available on the market. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale looks into the effects that unclear regulations and strict follow up by security forces have on those who work with drones.

Although it is still in the infancy stage in terms of mass adoption, drone usage in Ethiopia is rapidly growing in popularity, especially in the entertainment industry. Over the last few years, the rise of the commercial drone in film production has been dramatic, whether it is for TV shows, documentaries or movies.

Biniam Cherinet, 26, is a cameraman working for an emerging company that produces movies and music videos. A year ago, a relative sent him a drone from Europe. Even though he was hesitant at first, Biniam eventually used it to record Epiphany celebrations this year. “I was filming the ceremony from above,” he recalls. “However, I was forced to take down the drone after harsh interrogation by security officers.”

On top of using it for his own productions, Biniam rents his drone out for ETB2,500 to ETB5,000 per day. “This clearly indicates that the demand and use of drones is rising in Ethiopia,” he explains

Although the demand is more visible in cinematography, drone wedding photography has also been on the rise for quite some time. “Having a drone has become almost mandatory today, not only to make music videos but also for wedding videos,” explains Samuel Mekonen, production manager at Sam Film Production, who has filmed music and wedding videos using drones over the last two years.

Of course, the use of drones have already broken through rigid traditional barriers in developed countries by becoming central to the functions of various businesses and governmental organizations. This is due to features such as cameras with different capabilities and the fact that they can be controlled with Wi-Fi and radio waves. Prices have been trending downwards in the last few years, ranging from USD500 to USD29,000. Drones also have a maximum altitude of 2,438 meters and a flight range as far as five kilometres before needing to be recharged. As a result, drones are becoming tremendously beneficial around the world, especially for applications that humans cannot perform in a timely and efficient manner; ranging from delivery services to industrial and military applications.
“The use of drones is expanding into uncharted territory in Ethiopia,” says Michael Direba, partner of Zena Film Production and manager of Drones for Rent Ethiopia. “On top of NGOs and various government institutions that produce documentaries, I rent drones to private companies engaged in consulting and architectural design.” Michael owns five drones, including the latest Phantom 4 Pro – Professional model.

Almost all commercial drone types in Ethiopia are DJI brands, which are highly sought after by professional aerial cinematographers. However, the country still has no clear law in place that regulates the import and usage of drone technology.

“I know many Ethiopians who tried to bring drones in from abroad. But they were all stopped at customs and had to send them back,” said Biniam, echoing the experiences of many insiders EBR talked to.

Using drones is also not without challenges. Onestop Production is a company that works with drones. The company recorded the Bira Biro concert, which was held at Ghion Hotel three years ago, near the presidential palace. “While recording, we were followed by officials and police officers until the last minute,” a Onestop employee told EBR on condition of anonymity.

Wossenyelleh Hunegnaw (Col.), director of the Ethiopian Aviation Authority (EAA) recently said that there has been increased drone activity in the country, stating, “In other parts of the world there have been reports of drone collisions with commercial aircrafts. We are formulating drone regulations, with relevant bodies like the Information Network Security Agency (INSA).”

According to Wossenyelleh, the regulation will govern the import, operation, type and specification of drones, as well as licensing procedures and allowable altitude, among other things. EAA also recently introduced another regulation that governs the use of hot air balloons.

But for the moment, INSA is responsible for authorizing drone imports, while the Government Communication Affairs Office provides the necessary permits and documents based on INSA’s approval. As most drones currently operating in Ethiopia have been reportedly smuggled in by people coming from abroad, there is no compiled data on how many have been imported, according to an INSA official.

Of course, as drones rapidly evolve, regulators around the world are moving to keep up with their uses, capabilities, and technology. Globally, few countries have permissive drone laws that allow the importation and use of drones.
Professionals in the film production industry argue that the government can simply prepare a digital map for risky areas, and identify them as ‘no fly zones’ for commercial drones. “However, it may not be that simple, if the strict privacy culture of Ethiopians is taken into account,” argues Biniam.

Michael, on the other hand, stresses that Ethiopia can adopt international standards to regulate the use of drones. “Regulations that govern drones differ dramatically across the world, but the elements of regulation are largely the same. So monitoring the evolution of international drone regulations is essential, in this regard.”

6th Year . April 16 – May 15 2018 . No.60


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