DRONES READY FOR TAKE-OFF

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT - BY GLENDA WIL­LIAMS

South Africa will be in­tro­duc­ing new reg­u­la­tions to reg­u­late re­motely pi­loted air­craft sys­tems (RPAS). Re­cently signed by the min­is­ter of trans­port Dipuo Peters, the reg­u­la­tions will be pub­lished and im­ple­mented by 1 July 2015.

RPAS, or drones as they are more com­monly called, are air­craft that can fly with­out a pi­lot on board. Th­ese air­craft, of vary­ing shape and size, can be con­trolled re­motely by an in­di­vid­ual on the ground, in an­other air­craft or through an on-board com­puter sys­tem.

Pri­mar­ily used i n mil­i­tar y op­er­a­tions, the de­ploy­ment of drones is in­creas­ingly be­ing used in civil­ian ac­tiv­i­ties – con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, aerial sur­veil­lance and sci­en­tific re­search among them.

“In the ab­sence of guiding doc­u­ments from ICAO [ I nternational Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion], Reg­u­la­tors such as our­selves have had to swiftly de­rive mea­sures to ad­dress the reg­u­la­tion de­fi­ciency in re­sponse to a grow­ing de­mand to reg­u­late this sec­tor,” says direc­tor of Civil Avi­a­tion Poppy Khoza.

She says that SACAA (South African Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity) – a mem­ber of the ICAO RPAS Panel – has taken what is likely to be an i nte r n ati onal posi t i on a n d cus­tomised it into lo­cal reg­u­la­tions af­ter in­put from rel­e­vant state en­ti­ties, in­dus­try role play­ers, in­clud­ing op­er­a­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ers, and other airspace users.

The reg­u­la­tions, which re­quire op­er­a­tors of RPAS to have a valid re­mote pi­lot li­cense, do not ex­tend to au­ton­o­mous air­craft - those whose on-board com­put­ers han­dle the pi­lot­ing of the air­craft dur­ing flight i.e. be­tween take-off and land­ing. Nor do they ap­ply to toy air­craft or un­manned bal­loons.

RPAS will not be al­lowed be op­er­ate with­out a let­ter of ap­proval or be flown ad­ja­cent to or above a nu­clear power plant, pri­son, po­lice sta­tion, crime scene, court of law, na­tional key point or strate­gic in­stal­la­tion. Nor can they fly di­rectly over­head peo­ple or 50m from any per­son, struc­ture or build­ing, op­er­ate above 400ft or within 10 km from an aero­drome.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing t hat the reg­u­la­tions might not yet be per­fect, Khoza says that they are a first at­tempt at ad­dress­ing this rapidly evolv­ing avi­a­tion tech­nol­ogy. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with ICAO and its mem­ber states, the SACAA will ad­just the reg­u­la­tions a s di c t a t e d by p r eva i l i n g cir­cum­stances.

Aside from devel­op­ment of the avi­a­tion in­dus­try, Khoza says that their pri­mary man­date is to reg­u­late avi­a­tion safety and se­cu­rity and they are not in the busi­ness of sac­ri­fic­ing lives for the sake of com­mer­cial in­ter­ests. SA’s avi­a­tion safety and se­cu­rity set­ting she says is highly re­garded through­out the world. “Our r ati ng by t he I nternational Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion sits above the 80% world av­er­age. This is a record we do not wish to com­pro­mise.”

A white Rhino calf stands near its protective mother in Zi­manga Game Re­serve, KwaZulu- Natal.

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