SACAA encourages the registration of drones amid calls for regulatory reform

SACAA encourages the registration of drones amid calls for regulatory reform

Cape Town – The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has finally responded to Mobility MEC Ricardo Mackenzie’s call for a more “accommodating aviation regulatory environment” to unlock the potential of drone usage.

Earlier this month, Mackenzie highlighted the urgency for regulatory reform while addressing delegates at the ‘Incorporating Drones and Robotics into Disaster Management and Humanitarian Aid’ conference in Cape Town.

Mackenzie urged aviation regulators to work together to unlock the potential of drones to transform mobility in the country.

“Let’s work together to unlock the immense potential of drones and robotics, ensuring that the Western Cape continues to be a hub for innovation and progress. To harness the potential of these technologies, it is crucial that our regulatory environment becomes more agile and accommodating,” he said.

“About four months ago, I went to Bredasdorp to have a look at one of the largest drones in the world, destined to play a transformative role in providing aid to disaster-stricken places.

“This drone was fully funded by the Netherlands Government and only needed a testing facility, which was made available by the South African Air Force.

“However, the drone was unable to get a permit to operate in South Africa because our regulatory environment was not ready for it.

“Sadly, this drone – and all the jobs that come with it – has been taken to Kenya instead,” said Mackenzie.

He added that it was in the collective interest to ensure that the province remained at the forefront of innovation, and that these transformative technologies be harnessed for the betterment of the province and South Africa.

SACAA spokesperson, Sisa Majola said the entity supported the usage of drones, “provided that it’s done responsibly and within regulations” stipulated under Part 101 of the SACAA regulations.

There are general rules of flying drones in South Africa such as:

– ensuring that it is not flow within 10kms of an airport, or nearer than 50 metres from people, buildings or roads.

– Drones may only be operated for personal use when there is no commercial outcome, interest, or gain involved with the footage.

– Using a drone for commercial operations requires a pilot to be registered and operate under Part 101 of the SACAA regulations.

Majola said that currently, the SACAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) regulations have already led to the certification of complex humanitarian and disaster management UAS operations such as the SANBS delivery of emergency blood, which was approved in 2022.

“Cape Town EMS was approved in 2020 to conduct BVLOS SAR operations; they are also certified to drop lifesaving equipment by UAS.

“The SACAA mandate is ensuring that safety is promoted through responsible usage of drones. The SACAA encourages the registration of drones and having registered drone pilots to ensure safety for all South Africans,” said Majola.

When asked how long it took to get clearance for drone use, Majola said: “There is a process that begins with an applicant obtaining an Air Service License (ASL) from the Department of Transport”.

SACAA also shied away from directly answering if the regulations regarding drone usage could be improved.

“The current regulations ensure the safe integration of UAS into manned airspace for reasons stated in the first question. These regulations have been reviewed since the first regulations were promulgated in 2015.

“Review of regulations is an ongoing practice to ensure that the regulations are easily understandable and applied,” Majola said.

When The City of Cape Town launched its tourism safety plans, Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said that safety technology would be a key feature of the festive operations, including drones, dashcams, automatic number plate recognition, and CCTV.

“This all forms part of the City’s major safety technology investment, amounting to R860m over three years,” said Hill-Lewis.

While declining to comment on the challenges faced in the City’s drone rollout efforts, Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith, previously touted the City’s investment in tech including drones.

He said: “In terms of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), the Directorate is using a transversal City tender to deploy drones during enforcement and emergency operations, while it completes the process of acquiring its remote operating certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority.”

Smith said that the long-term vision was to establish an Aviation Unit within Safety and Security.

“We live in an ever-changing world, and it is imperative to supplement boots on the ground with the necessary tools to fight crime and lawlessness head on.”

SACAA did stress that its mandate was strictly for civil aviation operations in the country with no control on the usage of drones by the State (police, border control and military) which is not subjected to civil aviation regulations.

Cape Argus