'Formal training should be a requirement for drone pilots'

2014-04-07 13:08
Johannesburg - The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is set to clamp down on the illegal flying of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in civil airspace, with ass much as R50 000, 10 year in jail or both being the possible penalty.

Here News24 Reader Juan Joubert calls for responsible regulation of the industry to include a measure of pilot training.

"In response to your article: “CAA to hit illegal drone flyers with hefty fines” I would like to comment from the perspective of a pilot having sat several thousand hours in the left seats of aircraft and completed hundreds of flights with UAVs as pilot in command.

This does not make me an authority to speak on behalf of present and future parties entering this discipline, however the hype around UAVs are normally associated with sensational comments/events and not necessarily based on aeronautical and real facts.

The UAV Pilot is ultimately responsible for the safe conduct of the aircraft. He will therefore be required to sanction all actions undertaken by the aircraft whether that is during the planning stage (by acceptance of a flight plan) or during the execution of the mission.

Safety should always be his first priority. Having said this, it is hard to understand how any “Pilot” of a UAV can safely be in command without having had formal training in the command of manned aircraft.

I agree that some UAV “Pilots” are very clever in handling UAVs, however the “propellers” can very quickly come off in lacking a broader sense of airmanship, safety consciousness and situational awareness.

We are successfully using UAVs in remote sensing and data recording applications for more than two years without bridging any safety perimeters.

As responsible safety orientated UAV Operators, we apply self-regulation and training to our UAV Pilots in lieu of any SACAA long-overdue sensible regulations or guidelines. We follow and exceed internationally acceptable safety standards formulated by more advanced Civil Aviation Regulatory Bodies.

All our Pilots have to complete a full PPL, SACAA written examination successfully inclusive of practical flight training on manned aircraft before he/she is considered by us as a learner UAV pilot. UAV pilots have a number of different flight control modes with differing levels of manual intervention capability, engendering a much higher level of complexity to the determination and formulation of Remote Pilot qualification requirements.

We are concerned that this specialized knowledge may not present at the SACAA – On a less serious note, if they have the required practical skills and knowledge in-house to embody and formulate such regulations, should these persons not be in jail, according to the threads made by Mr. Khoza in your article?
The uncontrolled and unsafe use of UAVs by “cowboys” with no formal “air sense” and practical knowledge of real flight disciplines cause unacceptable safety risks to the public and property when least foreseen.

Incidents you referred to in your article are typical examples of “Kakkarazzi” having a very negative effect on the general perception of UAVs by the layman – that these characters should be banned, having received no formal flight  training nor abiding to air safety and disregarding the safety of the public – for sure, go at them; that responsible Operators be associated and threatened in the same breath by the SACAA because the SACAA cannot formulate practical and sensible interim guidelines to UAV Operators?

No! - Industry could not wait any longer for officials that cannot get their act together. The CAA of the United Kingdom has resolved this dilemma a long time ago – why do we have to be behind when it comes to efficiency?
In essence:

A policy to be formulated by the SACAA must meet at least the same safety and operational standards as manned aircraft. Thus UAV operations must be as safe as manned aircraft insofar as they must not present or create a greater hazard to persons, property, vehicles or vessels, whilst in the air or on the ground, than that attributable to the operations of manned aircraft.
In summary:

•         We propose a standard PPL (Private Pilots License) course examination and a few hours of flight training in a manned aircraft as compulsory before attending a formal course in UAV piloting procedures. Flying is a serious business – unmanned or conventional – without proper training it is best to remain on the ground.

•         A basic National UAV Certificate that can demonstrate a pilot’s competency is required.

•         A classification of flight control modes available and allowable mass for specific UAV Certificates.

•         Application to fly in a specific area should form part as a standard procedure followed by the UAV Operator. Such applications can then be measured against set guidelines by the SACAA to approve or not approve such applications or proposed flight plans.

•         In order to ensure that sufficient safety measures have been put in place, operators that are required to apply for permission from the SACAA need be asked to demonstrate that they have considered the safety implications and taken the steps necessary to ensure that the UAV will not endanger anybody.

•         Insurance and third party liability should form part of any activity to be approved.
In conclusion:

Time’s up Mr. Khoza! Industry is not prepared to wait any longer."

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