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These are the laws you should know before flying a drone in South Africa

The Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) industry in South Africa is expected to grow at a faster rate in the not to distant future.

This is according to Thomas Lawrenson, a partner at law firm Clyde & Co, who notes the wide use of drones in the country which can include everything from filmmaking and aerial surveys, to agricultural observations and news broadcasting.

“In South African law, RPAS are governed by the Civil Aviation Regulations, Part 101 – Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (“Part 101″), which came into effect over three years ago, on 1 July 2015,” Lawrenson said.

“With respect to the private use of RPAS, Part 101, in essence, stipulates that RPAS may only be used for an individual’s personal and private purposes where there is no commercial outcome, interest or gain and only in instances where the pilot observes all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by any authorities.

“For all other uses of RPAS (ie commercial, corporate and non-profit), the distinguishing regulatory feature is that the RPAS must be registered and may only be operated in compliance with Part 101.”

Private use

According to Lawrenson, the main restrictions applicable to private operation are that the RPAS cannot be operated above 400ft (120 metres), within a 10km radius from any aerodrome, within 50m of any person, property or public road, or within controlled, restricted or prohibited airspace.

“Private RPAS operators are restricted to operating RPAS with a maximum take-off weight of 7kg, can only fly in daylight and clear weather conditions and have the further restriction that they can only operate in restricted VLOS (visual line of sight), meaning an operation within 500m of the remote pilot and below the height of the highest obstacle within 300m of the RPAS, in which the remote pilot maintains unaided visual contact with the RPAS to manage the flight and meet separation and collision avoidance responsibilities,” he said.

The ‘trade-off’, so to speak, is that private RPAS operators are not required to hold an RPAS license, which is an arduous process in obtaining and maintaining, Lawrenson said.

Commercial use

For commercial, corporate and non-profit RPAS operators to comply with Part 101 and operate RPAS “legally”, the following is required:

  • Obtaining an RPAS letter of approval from the Director of the South African Civil Aviation Authority, which letter is valid for 12 months from the date of issue;
  • Apply for a certificate of registration for each individual RPAS;
  • Apply for an RPAS operating certificate, which encompasses the prospective operator creating a manual containing all the information required to demonstrate how the operator would ensure compliance with all regulations and safety standards. The holder of an RPAS Operators Certificate must also conduct background checks on all personnel employed to handle, deploy or store RPAS; and
  • Submit a maintenance programme for approval by the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority. In light of the fact that there are currently no certification standards for RPAS, the Civil Aviation Authority has prescribed that operators should maintain RPAS in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, whether through action or inspection.

“Over and above the requirements delineated for commercial, corporate and non-profit RPAS operators, the actual RPAS are required to be operated by duly qualified and licensed pilots, which licenses may be applied for by any person over the age of 18 who has the relevant medical certificate and has completed a theoretical examination as well as skill tests and flight training from a training facility duly authorised by the Civil Aviation Authority,” Lawrenson said.

“Notably, all holders of an RPAS operating certificate must at all times be adequately insured for third party liability – which is legislated at a minimum of R500,000 per RPAS.”



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