Personal and Commercial Drone Regulations in South Africa | All You Need To Know About Flying a Drone in South Africa

We’ve all heard them, most of us have seen them and some of us even fly them. Whether you love them or loathe them, drones are here to stay. Whether used to take breathtaking birds eye footage, or as a key element in disaster relief, drones are a truly revolutionary technology.
It’s no surprise that this technology has been snatched up by South Africans looking to make their way into uncharted airspace. And while this may sound exciting for drone owners, there are certain regulations in place that need to be obeyed in order to legally fly a drone in South Africa. We’ll take a look at these regulations below.

But first, what is a drone?

Most commonly, a drone is defined as “an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond the line of sight.” Drones in this case are also known as a hobby or consumer drone, and can be best described as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for the mass market.
Before we get into the different regulations for commercial and personal drone use, there are a few basic regulations outlined by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Part 101 Regulations that apply to anyone flying a drone. They are as follows:

  • Drones cannot fly more than 400ft or 120m above the ground, nor within in 10km of an aerodrome.
  • Drones cannot be flown within 50m above or close to a person or crowd of people, structure or building – without prior SACAA approval. Nor can you fly drones adjacent to or above:
    • a nuclear power plant
    • a prison
    • a police station
    • a crime scene
    • a court of law
    • national key points
  • You cannot use a public road for the take-off or landing of a drone.
  • You cannot use a drone in adverse weather conditions, where your view of the drone is obstructed  since visual contact must be maintained with the RPA by the operator – unless in approved beyond visual line of sight or night operations.
  • Drones need to give way to all manned aircraft and should avoid passing over, under or in front of manned aircraft, unless it passes well clear and takes into account the effect of aircraft wake turbulence.
  • Drones cannot be used to transport cargo or make deliveries
  • Drones cannot tow another aircraft, perform aerial or aerobatic displays or be flown in formation or swarm;
  • All incidents involving an RPA must be reported, especially where there is any injury to a person; damage to property; or destruction of the RPA beyond economical repair.

Drone Flying For Private Use:

If you own a drone and are only going to be using it for personal or private use, you do not need to register the drone or obtain any licenses. You will, however, need to obey the SACAA Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Part 101 Regulations mentioned above.

Drone Flying For Commercial Use:

If you are interested in flying a drone for any commercial or business use, there are a stricter regulations. The South African Civil Aviation Authority views any drone as an aircraft which means that a commercial drone pilots need to go through their own certification and exams, just as a commercial pilot would.
According to Drone Zone Africa, these are the steps to follow if you wish to fly a drone for commercial use:

  1. a) getting your Remote Pilots License (RPL) from an approved training facility
  2. b) your Air Service License (ASL) from The Department of Transport and then
  3. c) your Remote Operators Certificate (ROC) from the SACAA.

Only once you have these certificates can you operate commercially.
Commercial drone operators must be able to produce/prove the following at the request of an official:

  • RPL – Remote Pilot Licence, obtainable from a registered training facility like Drone-X or Drones University (see contact details below).
  • Registration of his/her aircraft with the SACAA.
  • Air Service License.
  • Aviation Medical Certificate. The new drone regulations allow for medical self assessment, and do not require a medical certificate for drones under 20kg. If you need to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) or if you fail the medical self assessment, then only you need to do a full medical Class 4.  So for the majority of drone pilots, simply complete the self assessment.
  • Remote Operators Certificate (ROC)
  • Written permission from property owner on who’s property they operate.

So there you have it, all you need to know about legally operating a drone in South Africa. Any personal drone pilot who fails to adhere to the above mentioned regulations may receive jail time or a fine of up to R50 000.

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