Drone ban to hurt local operators

2014-06-04 00:00

WITH the use of flying drones with mounted cameras being banned with immediate effect in South Africa by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), local drone operators have been hit hard.

Andrew Martens of PMB-based RC Helicam South Africa — who does aerial video, virtual tours and aerial stills imagery — said they were fortunate to have a lot of overseas work to sustain them. RC Helicam is well known for filming big local events like Comrades, the Midmar Mile and others.

Martens said after the SACAA made an initial statement in April about curtailing the use of drone cameras, they had undertaken not to do any more events locally.

“We turn away work on a weekly basis now. Lots of local guys are suffering.” They have now stepped up their ground-based work.

He said if a request was received for work on private land they still consider those jobs, as long as this did not require the drone to fly above 400 ft (121,92 m) and less than 5,5 km from an airport.

He said he believed the latest media statement regarding banning drones had more to do with the film and TV industries who need insurance, and can’t get film permits without insurance.

A lot of operators had said that as there was no legislation as such yet, government would not be able to prosecute, so they were carrying on as before, according to Martens.

“It’s a fast growing industry with lots of new guys,” he said.

Martens explained that there were risks of accidents with drones if the drone crashed while over a public area. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of cowboys out there.

“We were on track to do Top Gear and Comrades but we’ve lost out on these and other nice big events too.”

The ban makes it illegal for any TV news operation, productions doing film shoots, people shooting documentaries, TV series or film agencies, to use drones and the SACAA will not issue any further permits.

Denis Lillie, the chief executive of the Cape Town Film Commission (CFC), said South Africa now risks losing production activities to other areas who approve the use of camera drones.

In response to the ban, Screen Africa reported that the Cape Town Film Commission (CFC) has been in discussion with the SACAA, the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry and the deputy mayor of Cape Town and has requested that the SACAA implement their model aircraft policy for use of the drones.

If approved, the policy will require adopting the below guidelines, which are similar to those used in Europe and Australia:

• Flying only under 120 m;

• No flying within 4,2 nautical miles of an airport;

• Flying only in line of sight of the operator (500 m);

• No auto pilot flying or night flying;

• No flying over public property and roads without permission.

Martens designed and built a remote-controlled helicopter that carries a camera and takes aerial photographs.

He obtained an advanced level proficiency rating in piloting a remote-controlled helicopter so that he can take his Helicam, which is made mostly of carbon fibre and aluminium, into the air.

For further information on Martens’ work on virtual tours, visit www.rchelicam.co.za.

Witness editor Andrew Trench, recently wrote that drones, or Unmanned Ariel Vehicles, are remote-controlled, camera-bedecked flying devices used to gather material in difficult locales or to provide a fresh perspective on things. In Gauteng, Kagiso New Media and Jacaranda FM announced plans to run a “proof of concept” project where they planned to use drones to provide real-time traffic updates. The two said they had already done several successful test flights. In the United States, drones in journalism are becoming increasingly common. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has established a Drone Journalism Lab and there is already a Professional Society of Drone Journalists, established in 2011. The use of drones has sparked discussion about ethics, in particular privacy considerations. Trench wrote that the Professional Society of Drone Journalists uses a “hierarchy of ethics” which proposes that drones only be used in moments of overwhelming newsworthiness, that the operator must respect local laws and safety regulations and which does not compromise the privacy of “non-public figures”.

A report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford has documented a variety of uses of drones by media organisations, including paparazzi using them to take pictures of celebrity Paris Hilton. But they can also be used more conventionally, like when fans at a SA music festival were able to use their smartphones to have drones deliver beers to them. Online retail giant Amazon is touting product delivery using drones in U.S. cities.

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