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Licence to Drone


- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - May 2019

As many of you know, the world has been taken over by drones. Not in the Star Wars sense (after all those were clones), but rather by a multitude of flying devices piloted from the ground. These are not your average toy planes, but instead are sophisticated pieces of machinery that range from amateur hobbyist to professional pilot users.

These devices serve a wide array of purposes, with some online retailers even testing delivery systems using drone technology and some governments using the technology for less altruistic purposes, such as war and spying. But what about the average consumer? Currently drones are most popular for photography and aerial videography – making them the new go-to-toy of every visual creator in the game. However, with so many cameras in the air, and so many devices floating above us, how is this regulated? After all, a crashed drone in 2016 led to the suspension of a safety officer for Eskom.

That is where the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) comes in. Through them drone operators may obtain a licence to use their new toy, and at the same time familiarise themselves with the applicable aviation laws. (We all remember that recently an international airport was shut done due to drones not minding their own airspace).

Now, most of these laws apply only to those drones weighing more than 7kg or if you’re flying a drone for commercial purposes, and possibly won’t need to be taught to your teenager with his 1,5kg drone flying on the weekends (unless you live near a restricted area, in which case it is best they not arouse suspicion by flying cameras overhead). So where are these restricted areas? Let’s look at a few:

  • Within 10 km of an airport
  • Within 50m of a building
  • No higher than 122m
  • No flying the drone out of line sight such as at night, or in foggy conditions

If you’re uncertain about whether or not you need to obtain a Remote Pilots Licence or RPL for your drone contact the CAA to see their regulations such as the minimum age (18) and language requirement (must be English proficient). These are all contained in a document known as the regulations for Remotely Piloted Aircraft or RPA.

Of course there have also been debates surrounding the strict regulations of drones, with some claiming that the licencing fees are exorbitantly expensive and calling for more affordable courses and flight schools. Either way we look at it, drones are a technology of the future that will have an impact on not only business but leisure activities as well and it is best to consult with all the applicable laws surrounding it.

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