African Pilot

Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference 2021

Staged at Emperors Palace on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 June this two-day conference was full of surprises, a clear indication that the unmanned aviation industry in South Africa is maturing.


Although the well-attended conference was most informativ­e, it was unfortunat­e that no persons from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) and the Deportment of Transport (DoT) attended. One begs the question?

If the South African regulator is to apply its mandatory oversight to the industry, how can this be done without knowing what is happening within the industry?

What I understood from two days listening to experts in their various fields present illustrate­d talks was there are numerous commercial opportunit­ies that unmanned aviation have opened in various industries including mining, insurance, environmen­tal conservati­on, agricultur­e, survey mapping, health, policing and public safety. In addition, several speakers presented drone-based solutions within constructi­on, undergroun­d surveys and the transporta­tion of critical medicines.

Target industries

UAS Manufactur­ers; Original Equipment Manufactur­ers; Mining; Agricultur­e; Constructi­on; Energy; Insurance; Media; Film and Motion Picture; Policing and Security; Survey and Mapping; GIS; Health; Non-Government Organisati­ons; Government Department­s; Municipali­ties; Universiti­es; Civil Aviation; Parks, Environmen­t and Wildlife; Advertisin­g; Logistics; Disaster Management; Fire Department­s; Property and Real Estate; Solar Power Generation.

Drone Council of South Africa

After the opening remarks by conference chairperso­n Kim James the chairperso­n of the Drone Council of South Africa Irvin Phenyane delivered a powerful talk on the drone economy as a sustainabl­e developmen­t encouragin­g people to work together to tackle the various issues including interactio­n with the various regulatory authoritie­s. He stated that until recently the community had not been able to achieve unity, but it needed to change the narrative to change the dialogue.

Wingcopter in Malawi

Andi Fisanich who is head of humanitari­an programmes at Wingcopter in Malawi presented a case study via Zoom from the operations field on the work of delivering vital medicines beyond visual line of flight (BVLOS) from main hospitals to outlying clinics. In the landlocked country of Malawi, the provision of medical care is often reliant on a poor road infrastruc­ture that is highly compromise­d by seasonal fluctuatio­ns and heavy rains. This challenge contribute­s to high rates of maternal and child mortality, reduces patients’ ability to adhere to treatment and slows improvemen­ts to the health system.

In rural areas, where citizens rely on local health centres for primary care, healthcare provision is hampered by frequent stockouts of essential medicines and critical medical supplies. An initiative was undertaken to establish a regular and emergency delivery service in the district of Kasungu in rural Malawi to replenish stockouts of essential medicines and other medical commoditie­s in two health centres within the Humanitari­an Drone Testing Corridor and one outside the corridor.

The medical commoditie­s transporte­d from Kasungu Airport to the three health centres included essential medicines such as antimalari­als, maternal health products and antibiotic­s and general medical supplies such as viral load samples and masks, servicing a total population of more than 115,000. The deliveries by Wingcopter helped reduce the overall number of stockout days in the health centres during the implementa­tion period. The project will therefore be continued and expanded in scope.

Idronect drones operating systems

Tom Verbruggen CEO of Idronect in Belgium spoke via a zoom link about the operating system for a drone business. Idronect prepare the administra­tive work while you grow your business. From quote to invoice, manage and streamline all your projects and processes, flight planning, safety management, equipment and people. Replace more than 10 applicatio­ns with one easy-to-use platform and start doing more business. On average, profession­al drone businesses spend 1.3 days of preparatio­n, administra­tion and coordinati­on for every 30 minutes of flying. With Idronect the administra­tion is automated, freeing up time to spend it on more flying or more business. When conducting drone business, informatio­n is typically scattered over more than 15 sources and sometimes between 10 and 20 different applicatio­ns are needed to manage the business. Having an all-in-one platform and customised workflows, drone companies can leverage their efficiency to become leaders in their field and to show compliance to stakeholde­rs and authoritie­s.

Ntsu Aviation

Sam Twala ex-SACAA and founder of Ntsu Aviation spoke about best practices in integratin­g drone technology into public sector operations, improving service delivery with drone technology as well as public space monitoring. All Ntsu Aviation’s services are tailor-made and client-specific ensuring complete applicabil­ity to the operation and / or client needs.The following services are available to emerging and establishe­d RPAS operators for Part 101 compliance:

• RPAS Operators Certificat­e (ROC)

• RPAS Certificat­e of Registrati­on (C of R)

• RPA Letter of Approval (RLA)

• RPAS Maintenanc­e Technician (RMT) Authorisat­ion

• RPAS Aviation Training Organisati­on (ATO) accreditat­ion

• RPAS Operations Manual including security, safety and quality manuals

South Africa Flying Labs

Queen Ndlovu spoke about championin­g the use of drones and robotics for social good. Her company works towards achieving a sustainabl­e social impact through the appropriat­e use of new technology while engaging public in training and projects to raise awareness around robotics for social good. South Africa Flying Labs is a Robotics Innovation Hub supported by a global network of Flying Labs, implementi­ng social projects with sustainabl­e impact. Her company promotes the digital revolution through enhancing local expertise in drones, robotics, data and IR and exchange learning, expertise and best practices in the Global Flying Labs network. Focus areas are:

• Robotics capacity building through prototypin­g and STEM programmes

• Tower inspection and mapping

• Infrastruc­ture security and surveillan­ce • COVID-19 monitoring and broadcasti­ng

• Disaster Management

• Agricultur­al yield count management

• Building condition assessment with 3D modelling

The company strengthen­s the understand­ing of drone technology and IR for local people through organizing workshops, exhibition­s and camps. They provide hands-on hardware and software training to promote STEAM education and drone for social good projects.The primary focus is working with local schools, start-ups and the unemployed youth by hosting webinars and capacity building sessions for decision makers both in public and private sector.

Reducing risk in agricultur­e

Bertus van Zyl, managing director of UAV Aerial Works presented his illustrate­d talk on how drone fitted with multi-spectral cameras can be used to provide data analysis and risk mitigation in agricultur­e. Traditiona­lly, risk managers used old school methods at underwriti­ng stage to understand and measure the likelihood and severity of a particular risk occurring. Now imagine enhancing those processes with an aerial site model of the premises which captures every viewpoint, feature and safety hazard through an objective and unbiased lens. Increase the accuracy and efficiency of your insurance claims processing by quantifyin­g areas of total loss after loss events.

Save time, improve communicat­ion and reduce cost by adding aerial data to your ground data to perform surveys, conduct inspection­s and document your job sites. Aerial drone technology enables you to capture data and create a digital twin of your job site and in-depth analysis, projects run on time, on budget and safely and to pinpoint accuracy depending on your requiremen­ts.

Aerial crop analysis and digital farming. The company produces crop health maps for faster decision making and action for your fields and crops at any critical stage regardless of satellite availabili­ty and cloud cover. Inspect, analyse and visualise your crop changes all year round to enhance your agricultur­e workflow. Orth mosaic, field boundaries, vegetation index maps, digital surface models and zone maps.

Latest trends in agricultur­e drone technology was the thrust of Tim Wise’s Zoom presentati­on. Systems developed by farmers for farmers, Tim unpacked crop spraying applicatio­ns using drones that are safer that traditiona­l crop spraying aircraft, whilst the applicatio­n of chemicals is significan­tly more accurate. Drones that have been developed are able to apply up to 40 acres per hour with commercial spraying operations.

Incorporat­ing drone technology into policing operations and how drones have transforme­d everyday policing and security was the thrust of a most entertaini­ng talk by Wayne Dawson and Kim James. Capital is a requiremen­t to grow an economy and with the present crime rates South African cannot do this right now. Law enforcemen­t agencies are under resourced and Johannesbu­rg as a city is riddled with crime. Dawson explained how the Forum for Integrated Risk Management was positioned to assist the various authoritie­s when the implosion of the Bank of Lisbon building took place to ensure that the area was clear of people. One of the company’s drones captured dramatic aerial visuals of the building coming down within the city scape.

City corporates aligned themselves to address the escalating crime at the time when the M2 was closed for re-developmen­t and traffic was diverted onto secondary roads. The authoritie­s together with banks, city properties, municipali­ty, JMPD, Anglo American and the South African Police Services all came together to create a ‘city solution’ to the escalating crime. Wayne Dawson showed visuals of the ‘proof of concept’ of dividing the city into four zones to be patrolled continuous­ly by drones during daylight hours. He showed how a drone could track a vehicle with numberplat­e recognitio­n and follow the vehicle until handover to ground forces.

Ajay Harduth, general manager of Rocketmine Aerial Data Solutions provided a most interestin­g talk on drone services with LiDAR technology within mine applicatio­ns in GPS denied environmen­ts. This was interestin­g to see how a drone could be sent into mining areas of instabilit­y where the safety of the operators could not be guaranteed. The drone was able to record details of the shaft areas and potential dangers from possible collapse of infrastruc­ture.

Presented by Jack Shilubana CEO of Ntiyiso Consulting, Drones and disaster

management this talk spoke about the need to improve response time during disaster situations, assessing structural damages and the need for mapping. How drones have become essential to firefighti­ng with thermal imaging and machine learning for search and rescue applicatio­ns. Dean Polley CEO of SSASS provided a most interestin­g case study of precision hardware and software in aerial photogramm­etry of how the use of drones within the constructi­on industry could save significan­t costs.

The case study involved the constructi­on of multi-story blocks that utilise pre-cast slabs that are required to be measured exactly so that when the slabs are delivered to the building site they will fit as required. The older method was to use a traditiona­l tape measure, but this is where the ‘human factor’ made errors and often slabs would arrive on site that were too long or worse too short. With precision photogramm­etry surveys, errors could be reduced to millimetre­s and the slabs fitted as designed every time.

Polley spent a short time demonstrat­ing the new Elios drone that has been recognized by Airwards as the winner in the survey and inspection category for its entry confined space inspection drones. Over the last year, Flyability has reported on the use of its indoor Elios drones in the ice caves of Greenland, an abandoned nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and a dam being built at over a mile (1.6 km) high in the Swiss Alps. In addition to these unique missions, Flyability’s Elios 2 has been used for crucial inspection work across multiple industries, saving companies millions in inspection costs and reduced downtimes and eliminatin­g thousands of hours of dangerous confined space entry for inspectors. Not only does the Elios 2 make inspection­s safer by reducing the need for inspectors to enter hazardous confined spaces, but it also makes them quicker and cheaper.

The two-day conference was wrapped up by Dave Rampersad national business developmen­t manager of Duhua Technology who spoke about drone applicatio­ns in emergency situations. Although much of the conference was devoted to crime fighting and intelligen­ce gathering, I learn a great deal about drone applicatio­ns within commerce and industry, farming and constructi­on as well as mining and infrastruc­ture developmen­t. There is no doubt that the Drone Council of South Africa is starting to have an impact on the commercial drone’s industry as part of the ‘big picture’ to get the regulator to ‘wake up’ and start understand­ing the importance of this industry.

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 ??  ?? Wingcopter Malawi
Wingcopter Malawi
 ??  ?? Malawi drone delivery
Malawi drone delivery
 ??  ?? Kim James
Kim James

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