The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has revealed that over the course of a 12-month period the amount of drones registered and drone licenses issued has increased dramatically.

The SACAA notes that the number of drones registered with the South African Aircraft Register grew from 216 for the period ending January 2016, to 465 for the period ending January 2017. That’s a 115% increase, for those keeping score.

Folks are also keen to stay within the limits of the law. In the period ending January 2016 only 33 remote pilot’s licenses were issued. A year later CAA reports that as many as 368 licenses were issued during the period ending January 2017.

The substantial increase in the number of registered RPAS [remotely piloted aircraft systems] and associated licences in the country is not a surprise at all,” SACAA executive, Simon Segwabe said.

“In fact, the increase has always been envisaged as the rapid advancement of this technology and its potential use in commercial and other activities make RPAS appealing to many prospective operators.”

But the SACAA says that while many are doing things legally there are many more that are skirting the rule of law.

“It is estimated that for every registered and licensed remotely piloted aircraft taking to the skies, there are two or three more doing so illegally,” says Segwabe. The authority also notes that there has been an increase in the number of reports involving drones flying into private property.

“We urge RPAS owners and operators to respect the privacy of others,” the SACAA exec said.

Key limitations and restrictions for drone operation in SA

The SACAA urges RPAS pilots to adhere to all the limitations and restrictions as outlined in the regulations, notably that:

  • an RPA should always be in a fit-to-fly condition with the relevant authorisation to fly;
  • the aircraft is not flown in a formation or swarm;
  • the aircraft is not flown 400 feet above the surface or within a radius of 10 kilometres from an airport;
  • the aircraft is not flown adjacent to or above a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point or strategic installation.

Segwabe says that many folks with a love for drones and the business opportunities they present may not be that well acquainted with the laws that surround them. While drones are smaller than say an A380, a collision involving a drone and another aircraft could be disastrous.

At this point it would be worth reminding our readers that failing to adhere to the SACAA’s drone regulations can land you in prison for up to ten years or earn you a fine of R50 000 or both. While getting a drone license is an expensive endeavour – as Clinton Matos found out – it is far better than spending a decade behind bars.