Are SA's new drone regulations overkill? - TechCentral

Are SA’s new drone regulations overkill?

gizela-parker-180In the past few years, unmanned flying machines, variously described as remotely piloted air systems (RPAs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aerial systems (UASes), or more commonly known as “drones”, have been mainly used in targeted killings, surveillance or gathering intelligence.

Recently, innovators have expanded the use of drones to applications in the commercial sector that could lead to revolutionising industries like agriculture and urban development.

Some commercial uses for drones in the near future could include delivering packages, protecting wildlife, precision farming, search and rescue and many more. On 1 July 2015, part 101 of the civil aviation regulations came into effect, aimed at regulating the use of drones. The question is whether these new regulations enable or inhibit growth in the commercial use of drones in South Africa.

According to the new regulations, if someone wants to operate a drone for commercial purposes that person must obtain approval, which requires the fulfilment of certain safety requirements. They must also seek registration of the drone from the director of civil aviation.

The pilot of the drone requires an RPA pilot licence for an aeroplane, helicopter or multi-rotor with a visual line-of-sight, extended visual line-of-sight or beyond visual line-of-sight rating.

In addition, the RPA pilot licence, which is valid for two years, will only be issued if the pilot is 18 years or older, has a medical certificate, a radiotelephony certificate, English proficiency, completed flight training and passed both a theoretical examination and a skills test.

The operator, which is an entity similar to an airline, requires an operator certificate in order to operate an RPA which will be valid for 12 months. In order to obtain the operator certificate. the operator must submit, among other things, an operations manual to the director.


The new regulations also keep a tight lid on the circumstances in which a drone may be operated.

Drones may not be operated in weather conditions where your view of the drone is obstructed; drones cannot use public roads for take-off or landing; no object or substance may be released from the drone; drones may not carry dangerous goods as cargo; drones cannot fly more than 120m above the ground; and drones may not be flown directly over people or within 50m of any person or structure.

The director may, however, approve the use of the drone within the aforesaid circumstances in the operator’s operations manual.

Only time will tell if these new rules have the effect of encouraging growth, while enhancing safety, or only results in bureaucracy and barriers to entry.

  • Gizela Parker is candidate attorney at Webber Wentzel


  1. Greg Mahlknecht on

    I’m not for over-reaching government, but in this case I don’t really see a problem – the last thing we need is 16 year old buying a cheap drone and setting up a delivery service out their garage delivering burgers to people in a built up area. Come to think of it, that sounds like an awesome idea, but I’d prefer qualified professionals do it.

  2. For commercial drone operations, I don’t have an issue with this regulations. This space need to be regulated from the onset. My only concern though is with the hobby drones, since there is currently “no” regulations there. I also own a drone just for personal hobby use. I am very responsible but I can imaging what sort of trouble some careless individuals might get up, which might cause the authorities to impose harsh regulations on us as well.

  3. CharlieTango on

    So if the headline is: Are SA’s new drone regulations overkill? – where is the argument other than: “Only time will tell if these new rules have the effect of encouraging growth, while enhancing safety, or only results in bureaucracy and barriers to entry.” I thought lawyers argued a point? I see no argument here. Maybe the headline should have been: An overview of drone regulations.

  4. Gary Mortimer on

    Its absolutely holding back the industry and not in step with leading regulators around the world. Lots of boasting with very poor implementation. The SACAA does not have anybody trained on staff to an internationally accepted standard. They imported trainers that were not accredited in their country of origin. The intent was good with the regs but the folks rolling it out have been a shambles.

  5. Too many rules and nobody to police.. Typical. As for the rule that pilots have to be over 18, do they realize that the current Dubai Drone Prix champion is only 15 years old, and that in most countries 16 year olds can legally obtain a driver’s licence (for a car)? The young generation of today are born with gaming controls in their hands. Pilot age restriction should rather apply to those of us who are over 50 🙂

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