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The Space Science and Geospatial Institute has partnered with National Airways, a private airline based in Addis Ababa, to capture aerial images using local planes, saving millions of birr annually.

The agreement, signed last week by Abdisa Yilma, Director General of the Space Science and Geospatial Institute, and Captain Abera Lemi, CEO of National Airways, will replace the previous reliance on rented planes from abroad.

Aerial photography, one of the earliest and most cost-effective forms of remote sensing, remains widely used. Abdisa noted that the cameras installed on the planes produce high-quality images for various purposes. He added that the previous method required foreign currency, creating challenges for the office. The new agreement is a significant step toward resolving this issue.

Kemahu Abraham, Lead Executive of Aerial Surveying at the Institute, stated that Ethiopia’s aerial surveying operations cost between 100 and 150 million birr annually. Previously, the Institute rented planes from abroad, costing $2200 to $2500 per hour, depending on resolution, accuracy level, and area requirements.

The new agreement is expected to save $250,000 to $350,000 per year. “We can collect two types of data using two planes rented from National Airways,” said Kemahu.

“One type is photographic images captured with state-of-the-art camera systems, each weighing around 100 kg and costing about $1.2 million. These cameras will be installed on two National Airways planes using an adapter plate and a gyroscope, which maintains orientation and reduces blurring due to turbulence and other factors.”

The other essential component in aerial imaging is GPS, which assists operators and pilots in navigating to the project area and taking photos automatically. GPS also provides X, Y, and Z coordinates for all photos. 

The second type of data recorded by the planes is LiDAR data. “LiDAR functions similarly to aerial photography, with comparable components. However, instead of images, LiDAR captures topographic data showing the earth’s structure. Both data types are highly accurate and detailed compared to other geospatial data,” Kemahu told Shega.

The Aerial Surveying Executive states that aerial survey data is highly accurate, has a high resolution, and is less expensive than satellite images. Previously, only foreign-funded projects utilized this data, but with payments now in local currency, it is accessible to all local users.

Since 2011, more than 450,000 km² of Ethiopia has been covered with aerial survey data, Kemahu noted. “Additionally, we have completed a small project in South Sudan,” he added.

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Daniel, a writer and radio host, has a keen interest in technology. Additionally, he has supported various organizations by enhancing their digital presence in his role as a social media manager.