Own­ing a drone can land you in jail

Saturday Star - - METRO - ARTHI GOPI [email protected]

YOU may have bought them on sale dur­ing Black Fri­day, or they may be on your list of fes­tive presents to buy – but one of the most sought-af­ter gifts this year could land you in jail.

Drones, de­fined as a re­mote-pi­loted air­craft sys­tem (RPAS), have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and af­ford­able, but ex­perts have warned that peo­ple should not con­fuse them with toy air­craft and un­know­ingly break avi­a­tion laws.

“The con­fu­sion around the two has led to many peo­ple un­in­ten­tion­ally break­ing avi­a­tion and other laws. These ac­ci­den­tal in­ci­dences can leave one with a hefty fine or a crim­i­nal record. So be­fore you go on a bar­gain-hunt­ing spree for the nifti­est fly­ing gadget, first fa­mil­iarise your­self with RPAS laws.

“In cer­tain in­stances, RPAS laws are ap­pli­ca­ble to all types of air­craft in­clud­ing toy air­craft, model air­craft and a re­motely pi­loted air­craft,” said Kabelo Led­waba, spokesper­son for the SA Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity (Sa­caa), the body reg­u­lat­ing and en­forc­ing civil avi­a­tion safety and se­cu­rity.

Drones bought and used for pri­vate and per­sonal use do not need a li­cence to be op­er­ated. Drones pur­chased for com­mer­cial gain need to be li­censed, and the per­son op­er­at­ing the drone needs to have a pilot’s li­cence.

In­for­ma­tion on the li­cens­ing and ac­cred­ited train­ing schools can be ob­tained from Sa­caa.

Drones, used ei­ther per­son­ally or com­mer­cially, are sub­ject to the same avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions which in­clude not fly­ing the air­craft more than 45m above the sur­face or within a ra­dius of 10km from an air­port and not fly­ing the air­craft ad­ja­cent to or above a nu­clear power plant, prison, po­lice sta­tion, crime scene, court of law, na­tional key point or strate­gic in­stal­la­tion.

Other rules in­clude avoid­ing fly­ing the air­craft, even a toy air­craft, 50m or closer to any per­son or group of per­sons with­out per­mis­sion, or if it weighs more than 7kg.

Led­waba said con­tra­ven­tion of these laws could re­sult in jail time and/or a R50 000 fine.

“As much as drones are cool gad­gets, they also pose risks, and if not op­er­ated in line with ap­pli­ca­ble laws, may cause a col­li­sion with other air­craft, with pos­si­ble fa­tal re­sults.

“Given the low cost and avail­abil­ity of these air­craft, it is pos­si­ble that er­rant in­di­vid­u­als or en­ti­ties may eas­ily ob­tain and utilise these air­craft in an un­safe man­ner, thus pre­sent­ing a risk to other avi­a­tors and the pub­lic.

“Re­gard­less, the Sa­caa will never con­done nor tol­er­ate any form of bla­tant dis­re­gard of the ap­pli­ca­ble rules,” he said.

Led­waba also pointed out that some drones were made with un­cer­ti­fied and, of­ten, un­trace­able hard­ware and soft­ware.

“The fail­ure rate of some of these air­craft are in­de­ter­minable, as there are cur­rently no civil cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards avail­able any­where in the world.

“Al­though these air­craft are much smaller and lighter than ex­ist­ing manned air­craft, their pres­ence in the skies still presents a sig­nif­i­cant risk to other airspace users.

“A col­li­sion of an RPAS and a he­li­copter or a jet full of pas­sen­gers could lead to a cat­a­strophic ac­ci­dent,” he said.

Nico van Rooyen, di­rec­tor of DC Geo­mat­ics Drone Ser­vices, said he li­aised with the Com­mer­cial Un­manned Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Africa (Cuaasa), which ad­vises on mat­ters re­lat­ing to RPAS.

“The KZN drone as­so­ci­a­tion is be­ing turned into the Dur­ban chap­ter of Cuaasa, and this will give KZN drone en­thu­si­asts a plat­form to share con­cerns and sug­ges­tions on mat­ters re­lat­ing to drones.

“Drones are very spe­cialised, so you must know what you want to do with it be­fore you buy it.”

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