NKWETO MFULA, Chingola
WHEN he was a teenager, Chaila Joshua Sikasula dreamt of becoming a commercial pilot like his late father Captain Joshua Titus Sikasula who was a commercial pilot with the defunct Zambia Airways, the nation’s flagship carrier.
But that did not happen.
By the time Sikasula was getting into university, Zambia Airways had been put into liquidation and its DC-10-30 Nkwazi sold to Monarch Airlines, which last week also filed for administration.
Sikasula ended up at the Copperbelt University in 1994 where he obtained a diploma in surveying.
Today, he is a founding partner of a geospatial consulting firm called CJ & S Geospatial Company with offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and Lusaka.
CJ&S Geospatial Company does land use mapping, geological and environmental mapping, underground pillar collapse analysis and GIS training map digitising.
The firm also deals with topographical surveying, 3D modelling, run off and surface water simulations.
But there is more to Sikasula or CJ, as friends call him, than that. This one is a technology freak and he has found himself being drawn to the world of drones. He even has a pilot licence obtained in South Africa.
Drones are in vogue.
At some point though, they were only used for special military operations. In fact, former United States President Barack Obama came under increasing attacks from liberals for his ambition to use drones to keep up the war against al Qaeda while extricating the US military from intractable, costly ground wars.
But Obama’s administration insisted that drones were exceptionally surgical and precise.
Anyhow, things have changed; they are now being used in almost everyday life. In fact, they have already been used to deliver pizza to skyscrapers in Mumbai.
That is more like Sikasula’s world.
“I am also a technology freak, hence the fascination for drone technology. It’s an amazing technology and its applications are limitless,” he says. “[Otherwise] I am a geographical information systems and science practitioner in South Africa, and I have remote pilot licence from a university in South Africa.”
Sikasula, who is married to Pamela Chilomo Sikasula, and is a father of two daughters, namely Renee, 10, and Niza, three, was born on January 18, 1974. He attended his primary education at Silverest, Woodlands A and Jacaranda Primary School in Lusaka. Thereafter, he went to Munali Secondary School from 1988 to 1992.
It is while at Munali that he earned the moniker of CJ.
From Munali, he got accepted at the Copperbelt University in 1994 where he obtained a diploma in surveying. But he also studied at the University of Twente, Holland in 2002 obtaining a post graduate diploma in Geographical Information System (GIS) before going to the University of Salburg in Austria for an MSc GIS in 2009. He further got an MBA through the Management College of Southern Africa 2012.
But he wants to talk about drones.
Sikasula says the use of drones, which in some local bureaucratic parlance are remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), are on the rise in Zambia, and that in the recent past, they have been used for recreational purposes and to capture crowds during political rallies.
He says the tourism industry is no exception as drone-based videos of wildlife in the national parks can be accessed from websites such as National Geographic.
“Currently, photographers and a few surveyors are also using drone technology in executing their work,” he says.
Sikasula is however pleased that the Zambia Civil Aviation Authority (ZCAA) has actually realised that the demand for drone use in Zambia is on the increase and there is need to safeguard the air space against drone strikes as they can be dangerous when used by unlicensed pilots or untrained users.
It is the same anywhere.
For instance, in South Africa, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has instituted stringent regulations to govern the use of this technology.
Here, the ZCAA has engaged a Remote Training Organisation for Drone Pilots called ProWings to train Zambians who desire to become Licensed Remote Pilots.
But with all the safety concerns that drones raise, should Zambia really be going for drones.
“The answer is yes,” Sikasula says. “Zambia is able to utilise drones.”
He says the Zambian government should actually acquire drones for important developmental projects.
He says in agriculture, drones are a natural fit, where farmers can benefit from real time information. He says drones can help track almost everything including water use, crop health, heat signatures and soil analysis.
“You can make use of drones to inspect existing infrastructure, which can be cheaper, faster and most importantly safer. In construction, real time aerial inspection allows for the ability to quickly survey sites or detect mistakes,” Sikasula says.
“Drones can also be applied in forestry, surveying, mining etc. In disaster management, a drone can be flown to inaccessible areas to assess damage and look for survivors.
“In places like Lusaka’s Chalala residential area, where thieves attack home owners at night because of lack of street lighting, a drone with heat sensor can be used to flush out thugs.”
But there is a catch.
“If you own a drone and you are not licensed then you are flying your drone illegally. You are a danger to the Zambian airspace,” he says.
Sikasula is part of ProWings Zambia. He has partnered with Ian Melamed, who is the chief executive officer of ProWings and Captain Patrick Kawanu, the resident director.
Melamed is a former Interpol African representative who is specialised in computer crimes and is the first Zambian approved drone pilot instructor and ZCAA remote pilot examiner. On the other hand, Captain Kawanu is a commercial airline pilot.
“We currently have two highly- qualified remote pilot licence instructors in Zambia,” he says. “Zambia is on track with drone technology which is relatively new on the market.”