Airbus to set up high-altitude drone hub in Kenya

Airbus to set up high-altitude drone hub in Kenya

File image of the solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (Zephyr HAPS). PHOTO: AALTOHAPS/X

Airbus has announced plans to establish a drone base in Kenya from which they will launch their lightweight solar-powered drones if regulatory approvals are obtained.

According to Airbus, their subsidiary AALTO has developed the solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (Zephyr HAPS), which they intend to launch from their planned operation base in Laikipia.

Samer Halawi, the unit’s chief executive officer, said that Kenya will be the first of their operational bases to launch the Zephyr drone from their other bases around the world.

“We’re going to be providing more connectivity, mobile connectivity and earth observation services from an altitude or an orbit or frontier that has never been explored before,” Halawi said as quoted by Bloomberg.

Set to be launched at the beginning of 2024, AALTO says that they have met with local telecommunications companies Safaricom Plc and Telkom Kenya to provide better 5-G connectivity.

Halawi added that they plan to establish an assembly line, maintenance facility, and network operating centre in Kenya.

The company has factored in the availability of open, flat space to land and launch the craft by choosing Kenya.

They have also considered suitable weather to carry out their landings and takeoffs, with Kenya deemed suitable for up to ten months of the year, according to Business Daily.

AALTO's Zephyr will be able to stay aloft for 200 days, replacing mobile phone towers in remote locations or during natural disasters, to provide unparalleled connectivity and bridge the vast digital divide impeding global mobile connectivity.

AALTO took its maiden flight in 2018 and has since managed a flight endurance of 64 days using secondary batteries charged during the day for overnight flights.

According to AALTO HAPS, Zephyr has a coverage area of 7,500 square kilometres, which is equivalent to up to 250 ground-based towers.

In areas of lower population densities or difficult terrain, Zephyr will act as a terrestrial tower, in the sky, integrates seamlessly into the mobile operators’ networks and becomes the right technical and economic solution to expand the edge of coverage of those mobile networks.

Anchored on technology, Zephyr's Earth Observation will also be expected to help tackle forest-fires, monitor border security and provide real-time updates on transportation networks.  

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