What does the law say about drones in South Africa. What can you do and if you can do it where can you do it?

With the Explosion of Drones and drone solutions to the market Civil Aviation South Africa (CAA) has had to implement quality control and regulation of drones to ensure safety of aircraft and airlines. This kicked off mid 2015.
Since then there has been a lot of confusion and misdirection on if drones and commercial drone operations are legal in South Africa. CAA’s answer is YES, if you CAA approved operator and only then! And There are NO loopholes contrary to popular belief.
Having a RPL (remote Pilots license) does not make your flying a drone legal.
What does this mean and what is legal CAA approved operator? RPAS/Drone use governed by Civil Aviation South Africa Part 101 laws quick overview below:
For private use –
(a)   The RPAS may only be used for an individual’s personal and private purposes where there is no commercial outcome, interest or gain;
(b)   The pilot must observe all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by any other authorities.
For all other use  (commercial)–a RPA must be registered and may only be operated in terms of Part 101 of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations.
It goes on further to explain where a recreational or licensed operator may fly:

Unless approved by the SACAA, DO NOT fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft:

  • Near manned aircraft
  • 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
  • Weighing more than 7 kg
  • In controlled airspace (airport)
  • In restricted airspace (harbours, power plants, prisons, police station, courts of law, key points etc)
  • In prohibited airspace.

This does not sound too bad. But realize every hospital has a helipad so that’s 10km around that is a no fly. Net result there is nowhere in any major center in South Africa a drone can be flown legally unless the operator is licensed by CAA.
Fortunately, there are now some operators who are legal but they are in the minority sadly. There are many people offering drone services who are illegally operating.

Many clients say they don’t care, it’s the drone operator’s problem to be legal.  There are however ramifications of using an illegal drone operator.

  1. Any material gathered by an illegally operating drone may be challenged in court and be thrown out as it was illegally obtained.
  2. In some cases, the client may be held responsible for employing an unlicensed operator and or incur public liability claims as a result of damage caused. “I did not know he was not legal” is not a defence that will work well in the courts. Hiring people who are doing illegal things is a crime if you know it or not.
  3. The ethics of employing illegal operators because they are cheap. We complain about crime in the country but support crime with supporting illegal drone operators?

What happens if you are caught with or using illegal drone operations?

  • Receive a 10year prison sentence or a fine of R50 000, or both.
  • Individuals that use RPAS in an irresponsible manner may also face legal liability for breaking laws enforceable by other government agencies

It’s quite simple to determine this. Simply ask them to show you the following documents:

  1. CAA issued ROC (remote operating Certificate)
  2. Dept Transport issued ASL (Air Services License)
  3. CAA Issued RLA (remote letter of approval) for the drone.
  4. CAA approved OP Spec
  5. Copy of Legal Operators Operations manual on site
  6. Proof of insurance of aircraft and public liability cover
  7. Registered aircraft (ZT-xxx) displayed on aircraft
  8. ICASA issued Radio station license for the aircraft being used

All of these are legal requirements to be with any legal drone operation.
An operator saying they have applied for their ROC is still an illegal operator until the day he has been approved by CAA and can supply all the above documents.

Why are Legal RPAS oporators more costly than a friend I have?
YES it may be true that legal drone operators cost more than the fly by nights, or the friend with a drone,  this is due to the fact that CAA regulates drone operations heavily.
CAA require a minimum of 3 separate accountable people to be in place for a legal drone operator to ensure quality and safety.
Using a Licensed drone company, you know you have a company with the following (as its legal requirement)

  1. Detailed Operators manual so they know what to do when things go wrong.
  2. Safety Management and audit system
  3. Quality management and audit system
  4. Aircraft services and repair check tracking and compliance
  5. Regular pilot training
  6. Audits of all systems internally and by CAA
  7. Public liability insurance.

So where can i Legally Fly My Drone RPAS In South Africa?
We have prepared a basic map below highlighting the 10km exclusion zone around airfields, airports and Heli Pads. Please note national parks not included as well as other restricted areas. You may not fly within any of the red circles and other areas on these maps that include Hobby Flying.

Drone RPAS NO fly areas IN Port Elizabeth

Drone no fly zones in Cape Town By Purple Turtle Aviation cc

Drone no fly zones in Gauteng South Africa by Purple Turtle Drone and UAV services