Drones, also sometimes referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, are becoming increasingly popular amongst the civilian population. This is 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 a R1 000.00. This is good news for drone enthusiasts or those just looking for a fun past time 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 cause 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. Numerous flights were suspended between 19 and 21 December 2018 at Gatwick Airport, Britain’s second-biggest hub, after drones were spotted in the vicinity of the airport in order to ensure the safety of the aircraft and passengers. This led to the disruption of thousands of travellers during the festive period.
One must distinguish between the operation of drones for commercial purposes vis-a-vis recreational 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, readers are warned that one must have a Remote Pilot Licence when operating a drone for commercial purposes, and such a drone must be registered.
The remainder of this article will discuss how the use of drones for recreational purposes are 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.
SACAA’s regulations further regulate the usage of drones for recreational purposes by imposing the following restrictions:
- You are not allowed to fly near any manned aircraft.
- You are not allowed to 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.
- You are not allowed to operate your drone within any restricted, controlled or prohibited airspace.
- Operating a drone more than 150 ft 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. Readers are encouraged to do the necessary research in order to ensure that there are no regulations or by-laws which apply to their 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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)