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South African Drone Laws Come Into Effect

This article was originally published by BussinessTech.


The South African drone regulations come into effect on Wednesday (1 July) and are among the most stringent in the world, thanks to the Ministry of Transport.

While anybody above the age of 18 will be allowed to purchase a drone – with or without a licence – the regulations restrict the use of drones dramatically, according to SA law firm, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

Anja Hofmeyr, director, and Richard Chemaly, candidate attorney, dispute resolution, at the law firm note that as technology progresses, so too must the country’s laws.

Drones, formally known as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), have existed for at least a decade but their application was limited and costs prohibitive. Today, however, the dramatically increased availability of drones demands additional regulation of the skies.

The new regulations will affect most drones, from those recording news to those dispensing beer at music festivals – drones dispensing anything will be subject to additional licencing requirements.

Prior to 1 July 2015, the only regulations affecting drones was captured in two brief sections of Part 94 of the Civil Aviation Regulations. Fortunately for hobbyists, these sections still apply exclusively,  Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr pointed out.

This means that no licence will be required and distance thresholds are 150 feet above the surface and from any public road.

The newly adopted 29 page regulations – known as Part 101 – apply to everything from private to commercial use.

Private use regulation is restricted and entails that:

  • the use drone has no commercial interest;
  • the drone is operated on property owned by the operator (or on property that the operator has the necessary permission to fly on); and
  • distance thresholds  – 500m from the pilot and never higher than any obstacle within 300m from the pilot – of operation are maintained.

While certain universal standards of use still apply to private use, there is no obligation to have the RPA approved and registered nor is there a licencing requirement, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr stated.

Commercial use

If one wants to operate a drone for anything other than private use, the drone must first be approved and registered by the South African Civil Aviation Authority while the operator will require a RPA pilot’s licence.

Acquiring the licence requires medical certification, certification of radiotelephony, English proficiency, flight training, and passing both a theoretical examination and skills test, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said.

The licence is valid for 24 months and applicants must be over 18 years old.

The licence holder will also have to undergo a revalidation check 90 days prior to the expiry of the licence in order to renew it.

RPA licences may be issued in three categories: aeroplane, helicopter or multi-rotor.

Similar to conventional aircraft licencing, additional rating may be endorsed on a licence including visual line-of-sight operations, extended visual line-of-sight operations and beyond visual line-of-sight operations.

Under the new laws, RPA pilots will also be required to maintain a pilot logbook detailing each flight.

And if those regulations appear strict, the regulations to operate an entire Remotely Piloted Aircraft System are worse, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said.

They include:

  • licencing with a lifespan of 12 months at a time;
  • requirements to report to the Director of Civil Aviation; and
  • the development of an operations manual indicating how they intend to comply with the regulations (which further include requirements to do background and criminal checks on staff, adequate document security and third party liability insurance).

The general regulations on the use of any drone – including for private use – also includes the following:

  • restricts alcohol consumption, require pre-flight preparations;
  • limits the operation to a lateral distance of 50m from any structure or public road;
  • requires that the operator maintains at least a 10% surplus fuel reserve;
  • requires a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher within 300m of the take-off and landing point/s;
  • considering traffic, drones must always give way to manned aircraft.

Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr noted that the practical applications of RPA are endless making regulation of the industry was inevitable, especially given the fact that other jurisdictions lag behind on regulating the drone industry.

“The regulations evidently aim to manage drones in the civil sphere with a significant emphasis on safety and training. The infinite applications of RPA require stringent regulation, especially considering the lack of an international framework and the infancy of the industry,” it said.

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