Drones, also sometimes referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, are becoming increasingly popular in South Africa, partly due to the fact that it is becoming widely available and increasingly affordable. Drone manufacturers are catering for all different types of consumers and different budgets, with some drone models retailing at less than R5 000.00. This is good news for drone enthusiasts or those just looking for a fun activity. However, this increased popularity and accessibility means that more and more people own drones which result in increased drone activity in our airspace – which could be a recipe for chaos!
Disruptions at big international airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick have illustrated the chaos which can be caused by drones when operated illegally and irresponsibly. Between 19 and 21 December 2018, drones were spotted in the vicinity of the airport and numerous flights were suspended at Gatwick Airport in order to ensure the safety of the aircraft and passengers. The result was the disruption of thousands of travellers during the festive period.
Operation of drones for commercial purposes
The regulation of commercial drone operations (i.e., whenever a drone is used for commercial gain) does not fall within the scope of this article. However, please note that operators should have a Remote Pilot License when operating a drone for commercial purposes, and such a drone must be registered.
Drones for recreational purposes
These are indeed also regulated in South Africa. The South African Civil Aviation Authority (“SACAA”) has issued regulations which must be complied with when operating a drone for recreational purposes. You are not, according to these regulations, allowed to fly your drone in a manner which will in any way endanger the safety of another aircraft or person. This means that you are not allowed to:
- Fly your drone within 50 metres of a person or group of people. The regulations list sports fields, social events and schools as examples of places where you will be in contravention of this regulation should you fly there.
- Fly your drone within 50 metres of any property, unless you have obtained the consent of the property owner.
- Fly near any manned aircraft.
- Fly within a 10 km radius of any aerodrome (i.e. any airport, helipad, or airfield).
- Drones for recreational usage may not weigh more than 7 kg.
- Operate your drone within any restricted, controlled or prohibited airspace.
- Operating a drone more than 50 metres from the ground is prohibited.
SACAA’s regulations furthermore require drone operators to always maintain a visual line of sight with their drones when flying. This means that you must always be able to see your drone. Drone enthusiasts must only operate their drones in daylight and in clear weather conditions and should always inspect their drone before a flight.
It is of utmost importance to comply with the above regulations in order to ensure that you do not incur liability for any damages caused to people or their property. In addition, do extensive research in order to ensure that there are no regulations or by-laws which apply to a specific geographical area, since some local authorities may have specific restrictions in place.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.