21st February 2024 3:53 am
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This map shows where you can fly drones in SA

The recently announced Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) regulations that will come in effect on 1st July has caused a lot of drone operators to scratch their heads on where they are allowed to fly or not.

According to the proposed changes in aviation regulations, no drone flyer is allowed to fly within 50m of a building or within a 10km radius of an airport. That might make it seem that you won’t be able to fly anywhere in Johannesburg, but luckily there is an easy way to establish if you will be breaking any laws.

Professional photographer John Gore, an avid RPA pilot, developed the Safe Drone website to help anybody make sense of the new regulations – which includes the nifty no-fly map below created by Gary Mortimer.

Because there is a huge amount of data that needs to load, just give it a couple of seconds to render the restricted airspace.

For a map legend, the single blue circles indicate a 10km radius around an airport, the shaded blue areas are airport airspace, the orange areas are restricted areas such as national key points or military installations, and shaded red areas are restricted airspace (FAD, FAR, FAP) for all aircraft.

If there is an area on the map that is not covered by any colour, you are pretty much good to fly there – as long as you stay at least 50m away from a building and roads.

As for the other legal stuff, Safe Drone has a number of comprehensive sections that explain exactly what people need to do or comply with in order to legally fly a drone in South Africa.

One area that’s been misinterpreted in the analysis of the drone regulations, says Gore, is that it will be possible – and relatively straightforward – to apply for exemptions from the regulations. And unlike other countries, the South African exemptions will last for a year, rather than a few days.

The key, Gore explains, is in understanding what the Operations Manual is – and it might well be unfamiliar to those without an aviation background.

Essentially, as part of your application for an RPAS licence you’ll be able to submit your own Operations Manual to the South African Civil Aviation Authorty (SACAA), detailing your regular flight plans and where you want special permission to fly over a film set, near an airport – if you’re a farmer in the East Rand, for example – or next to a structure.

If approved, your Ops Manual stands for 12 months until renewal.

“New drone regulations that will be effective from 1st July are actually a big win for hobby drone users. The new drone regulations actually allow hobby RPAS a lot more freedom than hobby model aircraft,” Gore explains.

He details that people who occasionally fly a drone do not need a Remote Pilots Licence, do not need to register their RPAS aircraft, and can fly a RPAS up to 7kg weight – among others.

The site goes into detail about the history of drones in South Africa, basic drone safety, requirements from the Civil Aviation Authority and even has a Glossary and Acronyms section so that you can brush up on your lingo.

While the regualtions are yet to be formally published, the one key thing that’s still unknown is the costs involved for licence applications.

[Image – CC by 2.0/Richard Unten]

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