Unregistered drone owners risk six-month jail term, says TCAA

What you need to know:

  • Last week, TCAA ordered all drone operators to register their drones in four days at a cost of $100 (about $230,000).

Dar es Salaam. People operating unregistered drones face a Sh1 million fine or six-month jail sentence or both, the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) warned yesterday.

As part of the implementation of The Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) Regulations 2018 [G.N. 758], TCAA has directed that all drones be registered before they are to be used.  

A total of 34 applicants have already sought registration of drones from TCAA since Monday, last week, awaiting a certificate of registration if qualified for it after a vetting process.  

TCAA director general Hamza Johari told The Citizen on the sidelines of a news conference yesterday that the regulator had issued certificates of registration for five drones since the announcement of the last Friday's deadline which was made on Monday of the same week.

Considering the fact that TCAA has just started preparing a register for drones, the regulator has no actual figures for the so-called ‘unmanned aerial vehicles.’

However - based on the accounts of people who visited TCAA for permits or to ask about  registration procedures - there are over 200 drones in the country, according to Mr Johari.

“We have received a large number of applications, but only 34 people have all the required documents to hand,” said Mr Johari.

Police spokesperson David Misime - who was present at the press conference - said increased use of drones for civilian applications has presented countries with regulatory challenges.

This, he said, calls for the need to ensure that drones are operated safely, without harming the public and national security - and in a way that would protect areas of national importance.

“We share borders with eight countries. One may use that as a loophole to sabotage us by leaking important information about our country, this is dangerous,” said Mr Misime.     

Last week was the second time for TCAA to extend the deadline for registration of drones which costs a $100 (Sh230,000), the amount to be paid only once.

 “The validity of a certificate of registration has no time limit, suggesting that the owner will not be obliged to renew it each year,” said Mr Johari.

However, he clarified, whenever the operator wants to use it (drone), he or she will need to secure a permit from TCAA.

The very first deadline, last December - which was announced in September of the same year - was extended to January, to enable more registrations. 

Since September last year to date, 31 people owning a total of 52 drones, had been issued with operating permits by the regulator.

But now, they are required by the regulator to register their drones before using them. 

To expedite the registration process, Mr Johari said a one-stop centre bringing together all approving entities, would be established soon. 

Currently, drones owners are supposed to make registration at the TCAA headquarters or at its offices in Arusha, Dodoma, Iringa, Mwanza, Mtwara, Mbeya, Kilimanjaro, Kigoma, Songea, Tabora, Tanga and Zanzibar.

Along with other requirements, the 2018 drone regulations require a person or company to apply for a permit from TCAA before importing and registering.

In addition, the regulations require owners and users to apply for a permit and provide information to the police force and local governments during use.

Initially, under the regulations, normal airworthiness and operations standards were not applying to privately-operated unmanned aircraft below seven kilograms.

But, with recent developments in other countries where cases of killings using drones have been reported, TCAA changed its position and now the regulations apply to even small drones.

“Small drones can be even more dangerous than most people probably realise. We must have control over them,” Mr Johari told The Citizen.

“To protect aircraft and, at the same time, stop unlawful activities, the TCAA, the ministry of Defence and the Intelligence Department must satisfy themselves beyond reasonable doubt that the drone to be registered will cause no harm in the country.”

According to TCAA, drones may not be flown within 3 kilometers of any domestic airport, or 5 kilometers of any international airport.