SA’s drone regulation gets off the ground

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After waiting for months to find out what sort of regulation drones – or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) as they’re officially known here – would have in South Africa, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority over the weekend released the new regulations for flying drones in public.

Coming into effect on 1st July this year, the new regulations have been signed into the law books by Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters and will be gazetted some time over the next few weeks.

“I have the pleasure of announcing that South Africa will be introducing new regulations that will help regulate remotely piloted aircraft systems, popularly known as drones. These regulations have recently been signed by the minister of transport, Dipuo Peters, and will be published and implementable by 1st July 2015,” Director of Civil Aviation Poppy Khoza said in a media statement.

Khoza pointed out that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would usually be the authority to assign aircraft numbers and develop Standards and Recommended Practices, but since there are no regulations, the CAA had been tasked with doing so.

“In the absence of guiding documents from ICAO, Regulators such as ourselves have had to swiftly derive measures to address the regulation deficiency in response to a growing demand to regulate this sector.”

The regulations which Khoza released yesterday seem little changed from the document which was published in December for public consultation.

Before detailing the regulations and the requirements from pilots, Khoza was very quick to explain that these regulations do not apply to “toy aircraft” – which includes the majority of drones sold or built for non-commercial purposes.

If you want use one commercially, however, you’ll need to have a letter of approval for the drone itself and a remote pilots’ licence. According to regulations, any shop selling drones will need to ensure purchasers are aware of the regulations and comply – as we understand it, the process would be similar to that for TV licence (current consensus seems to be that making buyers aware of the regulations is enough).

For what pilots can’t do, they are not allowed be flown adjacent to or above a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point or strategic installation.

No drone will be allowed to be flown higher than 121 meters, or within a radius of 10 km from an aerodrome. Drones are also no allowed to be flown “overhead any person or group of people”, “within a lateral distance of 50m from any structure”, or “use a public road as a place of landing or take-off”.

The famous beer can dropping drones at 2013’s Oppikoppi music festival would therefore be illegal under the new regulations.

There are three categories for pilot’s licence:

• aeroplane remote pilot licence;
• helicopter remote pilot licence; and
• multirotor remote pilot licence

It might seem that CAA is in actual fact over-regulation the use of drones in South Africa, something that the CAA themselves might be aware of.

“Given the rapid pace of technological development in this area, we treat these RPAS regulatory framework as a continual work in progress, and hence we will continue to engage with industry to refine the regulations when, where and as deemed necessary. As the Civil Aviation Authority, we are not claiming that these regulations are perfect as this involves a rapidly evolving civil aviation technology. These regulations are only a first attempt towards perfection,” Khoza said.



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