Malawi and Unicef launch drone air corridor

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Kasungu aerodrome will be exclusively used for testing humanitarian drones for a year

Malawi has launched Africa’s first air corridor to test the use of drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, in humanitarian missions in partnership with the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

Kasungu Aerodrome, in central Malawi, will be exclusively used for the project until 2018.

Universities and other partners will also have access to the site.

Rwanda also launched a commercial drone delivery service last year to deliver medical supplies.

The project, in partnership with US company Zipline, has cut delivery of medical supplies to minutes instead of hours.

Unicef says it is working globally with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how drones can be used in humanitarian and development missions.

The UAVs will have a range of 40km (24 miles).

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Media captionThe BBC’s Karen Allen was in Malawi last year during the launch of the first test flight

Unicef says its projects adhere to a strict set of innovation principles and it is committed to sharing its knowledge with the fledging drone community.

Several governments in Africa have banned drones or imposed restrictive laws to limit their commercial or civilian use.

Another win for drone enthusiasts in Africa: Dickens Olewe, BBC News

For drone enthusiasts and campaigners, this development is another important step in the right direction.

After years of opposing the commercial and civilian use of drones, African governments are slowly allowing the integration of UAVs in the airspace.

The Malawi air corridor project is a close copy of an idea proposed to the Kenyan government by a Swiss polytechnic about four years ago to operate a drone delivery service called Flying Donkey.

The plan was to operate fixed-wing drones, carrying a payload of up to 20 kg (44lbs), in sparsely populated and infrastructure poor northern Kenya to supplement the postal services.

The project did not take off because the authorities saw it as a threat to security.

While there are legitimate concerns about privacy and safety, the absence of progressive drone laws to regulate the industry means African countries have been missing out on the multi-billion dollar industry.

Malawi now joins Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius on the list of countries leading cutting-edge research on drone use to address real-life challenges.

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