SA drone operator announces a first across Africa - issues warning to businesses

SA drone operator announces a first across Africa - and issues warning to businesses
Local company first to be certified to both operate drones and train drone pilots

Globally the drone business is proving to be one of the most explosive new growth industries in recent years, with South Africa a relatively late bloomer. With only a handful of training providers in the country, and thousands of uncertified and, therefore, illegal pilots, the industry is in urgent need of upskilling and compliance.

A Cape Town company, UAV Industries, has today announced that it is the first drone operator in Africa to be certified to train pilots and operate drones, receiving their Remote Operating Certificate from The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

Already one of the country's leading training providers, the new announcement means they are now the only company on the continent to provide insured and legal flights using their pilots for various industries in South Africa - film, agriculture, utilities, insurance, and property, to name a few. Having trained over 120 pilots this year, they will immediately bring economies of scale and accessibility to the sector with trained pilots in major provinces.

The announcement is well-timed. As the local industry booms, dangers exist and collisions will rapidly become an inevitable part of operating - the greatest concern is that South African companies may not realise they are employing non-certified drone pilots which puts companies, property, and potentially lives, at significant risk.

Braam Botha, COO of UAV Industries, explains, "Fundamentally it's about operational control in airspace. This is shared by all sorts of aircraft but when you're in an urban area you might be flying over people or over a road or buildings, and there are risks attached. In addition to this you are not allowed to fly within 50m of a public road, person or property you do not have permission from - including parks and beaches - and unless you have gone through the training, have been approved by the SACAA, and have a Remote Operators' Certificate in hand, plus some other requirements, you may not fly. It's a legal necessity, and as far as we've experienced, it's the only way you can be insured, because there are numerous eventualities such as flying into a property, a car, or a person."

Botha adds, "For hobbyists, that's not to say you can't fly. The South African Model Aircraft Association (SAMAA) has a number of SAMAA approved fields for their members and provide insurance for model flyers, but you can't make an income on the back of a SAMAA membership. To make a living, or work within a corporate environment, the legal process requires two licences - an Air Service Licence from the Dept. of Transport and you need your Remote Operating Certificate (ROC) from SACAA. On top of that your drone needs to be registered and approved by the SACAA and the individual needs a drone pilots' licence. You'll need insurance for third party risk - a drone crashing into a car - but for the most part you can't get this unless you're a legal operator. I often compare it to a courier company not being insured or insuring its drivers? Businesses should know this and need to ask the questions of the pilot - are you insured, and are you and your drone legal?"

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Notes to Editor

Regulations for drones, also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), were put in place by The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) in July 2015. According to the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of South Africa (CUAASA) at the time, they suggested that the new regulations might impede a number of local sectors, including the production industry where drones are often used to capture aerial footage.

According to the SACAA website the dangers of negligent operation of an RPAS are "collision with other aircraft, with possible fatal results, injury to the public, damage to people's property, legal liability for breaking laws such as privacy by-laws and other laws enforceable by other authorities." They specifically warn pilots against flying or operating Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft, 50m or closer from:
  • Any person or group of persons (such as sports fields, road races, schools, social events, etc.)
  • Any property without permission from the property owner
Unless approved by the SACAA, they strictly advise that pilots do not fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft:
  • Near manned aircraft
  • 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
  • Weighing more than 7 kg 
  • In controlled airspace
  • In restricted airspace
  • In prohibited airspace
  • Higher than 400ft from the ground or further than 500m away from you, unless approved by the Director of Civil Aviation of the SACAA

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