CAA to hit illegal drone flyers with hefty fines

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is set to clamp down on the illegal drone flyers of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS),  in civil airspace.

According to a statement sent out by SACAA, the move was prompted by recent reports of UAS already operating in the South African civil aviation airspace.   

UAS are classified as any aircraft that can fly without a pilot on board. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be controlled remotely by an individual on the ground, in another aircraft or through an on board computer system.    

Current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace. 

“The fact is that the SACAA has not given any concession or approval to any organisation, individual, institution or government entity to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace. Those that are flying any type of unmanned aircraft are doing so illegally; and as the regulator we cannot condone any form of blatant disregard of applicable rules,” said Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation. 

While this was hardly problematic before, a surge in demand for the use of drones – especially for commercial purposes – has prompted the SACAA to integrate the use of drones into the South Africa airspace as speedily as possible.    

In the mean time, until regulations have been put in place, anyone caught operating a UAS could face fines of up to R50 000, a prison sentence of up to 10 years or both. 

The use of GoPro drones have proven to be particularly useful in the creation of video and photographic content for publications. The bird’s eye footage not only provides alternative, fresh views of events and happenings, but also allows media access to crowded or inaccessible areas.

A recent example includes drones being sent up to gain unprecedented footage of the opening of the Oscar Pistorius trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

In June last year police officers apprehended a man who flew a radio-controlled mini helicopter over the Pretoria hospital, where former president Nelson Mandela was being treated.

Less controversially, drones can also be used to capture incredible never-seen-before natural imagery, such as this thousand-strong dolphin pod migration

As the regulator of civil aviation safety and security, the SACAA has noted the need to put regulations in place to deal specifically with UAVs.     

“Unmanned aircraft systems are a relatively new component of the civil aviation framework, one which the SACAA, together with other regulators worldwide and under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), are working to understand, define and ultimately integrate in to the civil aviation sector. As such, the process of developing policies, procedures, regulations and associated standards in order to certify and subsequently authorise operation of UAS is currently in progress,” Khoza explained.  

In collaboration with other ICAO member states, South Africa is working towards providing a regulatory framework and guidance material, to underpin routine operation of UAS in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.   

There are many factors to consider in the process of developing guidelines for authorisation, but the SACAA are targeting the end of the second quarter of this financial year to have some guideline document that could be followed. 

“The SACAA acknowledges that the current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace. We are also cognizant of the urgent need and demand for UAS usage for commercial and many other reasons. Hence, the SACAA has allocated the necessary resources to the UAS programme to ensure a speedy integration of drones into the South Africa airspace. However, until then we would like to appeal to those that are disregarding the laws to desist from such actions,” Khoza concluded.  

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