Could South Africa’s new drone regulations kill businesses, innovation?

The South African Civil Aviation Authority has released the new regulations for flying drones in public. Drone usage has become an important part of journalism, filmmaking and even security. These are not in effect yet but will be from 1 July 2015. It is only a matter of waiting now as the regulations have already been signed by Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters.

Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation, clarified in a press release what constitutes a drone.

“Remotely piloted aircraft systems are aircraft that can fly without a pilot on board. These aircraft come in various shapes and sizes and can be controlled remotely by an individual on the ground, in another aircraft or through an on-board computer system.” He said.

Read more: Kruger National Park is getting drones to boost rhino protection

These regulations were published last year for public consultation. It would appear that in that consultation process, the general public was very concerned about toy aircraft but the public need not worry anymore, those toy aircraft are exempt from the regulations. The regulations also do not apply to an aircraft operated in terms of Part 94 (i.e. non-type certified aicraft) of the civil aviation regulations and autonomous unmanned aircraft, unmanned free balloons and their operations or other types of aircraft which cannot be managed on a real-time basis during flight.

Drones for commercial use however are an entire beast altogether. The guidelines are quite clear that one has to abide by the basic aviation safety and security. No remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) shall be operated, unless such RPA has been issued with a letter of approval, which is valid for only a period of 12 months.

Sellers are not allowed to sell RPA unless they notify the buyer of the operational requirements as imposed by SACAA.

Further regulations are imposed on the RPA. The RPA station has to be compatible and inter-operable with the aircraft it is connected to in all phases of flight. It has to be controlled by only one piloted aircraft station at any given moment in time.

Users cannot fly an RPA unless they have valid remote pilot licence. There are three categories for pilot’s licence, aeroplane remote pilot licence, helicopter remote pilot licence; and multirotor remote pilot licence.

Other regulations include that the RPA cannot be flown directly overhead any person or group of people or within a lateral distance of 50 metres from any person, any structure or building. It cannot be flown in bad weather, cannot land on public roads unless in special incidents and it is not allowed to fly in controlled airspace, except by the holder of an RPAS operators certificate and on condition that such operations have been duly approved.

Considering that films, journalism and anyone can use drones, these regulations appear to be inhibiting the ability to do this and could mean South Africa is going to be left by in effectively using drones.



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