Astral Aviation has established a subsidiary, Astral Aerial Solutions, to handle the Kenyan cargo airline’s foray into drone delivery. The venture’s first customers oil and gas industry companies that need to move equipment out to remote sites. Astral’s CEO Sanjeev Gadhia told Business Daily Africa that Astral Aerial Solutions would soon operate surveillance drones along a “virtual highway” to monitor the movement of oil trucks, and that the drones are also suited for general cargo and humanitarian work.
The first drones in service are a fleet of Flyox units that can transport up to 1,850 kilograms up to 1,200 kilometers. While most commercial drones use top-mounted rotors, Flyox drones are unmanned prop-planes with retractable tail-wheel and amphibious landing capacity as well as precision parachute drop capability.
Astral plans to open a dedicated airport at Kapese Airstrip in Lokichar to land the 14-meter-wingspan aircraft, pending regulatory approval that has already delayed the project, according to Business Daily Africa. Under current regulations, civilian drones are forbidden from operating at over 400 feet – Flyox operates at up to 24,000 feet.
Gadhia noted that with approval slated for December of this year, Kenya will finally have regulations in place for commercial drone operation. Other countries in Africa already have such regulations, and Astral hopes to expand outside of Kenya, starting with Rwanda, where commercial drone regulations are suitable.
Astral Aviation has operated in Africa for fifteen years out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, with a fleet that includes a 747-400F ACMI-leased from Atlas Air, as well as one F27F, one DC-9F, and one 727-200F.
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