Want to fly a drone? You may need a RPA licence says the SACAA

Cape Town — South Africa is taking the lead in Africa by joining seven other states at an International Civil Aviation Organisations (ICAO) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Symposium to discuss how existing aviation rules need to evolve to meet the challenges in order to introduce Drones, as they are commonly referred to — safely and securely into public airspace.

ICAO is hosting the RPAS Symposium from 23 – 25 March 2015, bringing together key partners from civil aviation authorities, international organisations and the civil aviation industry, including RPAS manufacturers and operators, as well as other aerospace stakeholders such as research organisations and academia.

“This opportunity will enable South Africa, as represented by the SACAA, to showcase to other states, Air Navigation Service Panels (ANSPs) and operators, how the development of draft RPAS regulations was achieved, and once approved how they will be applied,” said Phindiwe Gwebu, South African Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson.

SACAA Senior Manager for Certification, Subash Devkaran says the key challenges and areas of concern when it comes to the use of RPAS, or drone are ultimately safety, security and privacy.

“SA as an ICAO signatory state member will be looking at how existing aviation rules need to evolve to meet these challenges,” said Devkaran.

While previously the SACAA referred to drones as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), the draft legislation now officially refers to it as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and rightly so says Devkaran since this is in fact an aircraft whose “pilot just happens to be sitting on the ground”.

According to the draft regulation, an operator of an RPAS will be required to have a specific RPAS pilot’s license from a SACAA accredited school or institution — if it is being used for Commercial, Corporate or non-profit use.

Currently the SACAA RPAS Draft regulations is awaiting approval from the Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters and until it has been signed into law — the use of these systems however remain illegal according to the SACAA.

Devkaran states the Symposium aims to look at the complications drones pose in relation to the challenges of safety, security as well as privacy.

“An RPA is very different to a manned aircraft, the pilot is able to very accurately identify what the aircraft is doing as well establish its position in relation to other aircraft as well as interpret effects of certain situation or weather on the aircraft.”

With RPAs safety is compromised since these aircrafts are not certified in any way, says Devkaran.

“RPAs could easily fall out of the sky and crash. They could fall down and land on a person, with the propellers slicing them up. It could fall on and kill a baby or an adult or even crash land on a motorway, hitting a motorcyclist. Worst case scenario is that it could collide with another aircraft, causing a major catastrophe.”

Devkaran says the RPAs have and can continue to pose enormous security risks, since they could easily be used in terrorist attacks, simply by attaching a bomb to it.

Recently a drone was able to land on the lawns of the White House in the US, adding to security concerns that RVA’s could be exploited by terrorists.

Added to this, says Devkaran are concerns around privacy, since the devices are often equipped with video cameras that could mean a live stream or video recording can be done anonymously through bedroom windows for example. For this reason drones need some sort of registration record, for both the pilot and the device — which will be the case going forward once the regulations have been approved.

The SACAA RPAS regulation currently awaiting approval from Minister Peters states:

Operations as a hobbyist are subject to the terms of Part 94, whereas private use is restricted in terms of Regulation 101.01.4 of the Civil Aviation Regulations.

(a) The RPAS may only be used for an individual’s personal and private purposes where there is no commercial outcome, interest or gain;

(b) The RPA may only be operated over property for which the operator has ownership or permission;

(c) The RPAS can only be used in Restricted Visual Line of Sight which means within 500m of the pilot, and never to exceed the height of the highest obstacle within 300m of the pilot, during which the pilot can maintain direct unaided visual contact with the device to manage its flight and collision avoidance; and

(d) The pilot must observe all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by any other authorities.

For all other use, which includes, non-profit, corporate and commercial:

(a) the RPA must first be approved by the South African Civil Aviation Authority for use by way of an RPA Letter of Authority (RLA);

(b) all RPAs must be registered by the South African Civil Aviation Authority prior to use;

(c) an RPA may only be operated in terms of Part 101 of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations which includes specific requirements that the operator shall hold an RPA Pilot License; and

(d) no RPA may be sold to any person under the age of 18.

SA, one of the few countries to have submitted draft legislation for approval on the use of RPAS, will present together with seven other states, amongst them the Czech Republic, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the Unites States of America at the symposium.

“This is a major milestone for South Africa as a state and is set to position us as thought leaders in the area of RPAS. Given the comprehensiveness of the current draft regulations, it is anticipated that the rest of the world will focus on South Africa for benchmarking purposes,” said Gwebu.

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