DRONES READY FOR TAKE-OFF
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.