'Hobbiests and clowns' to blame for CAA drone clampdown?

2014-04-03 15:37
Cape Town – Not too long ago drones – or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), as they are officially known – were a foreign concept to the average person.  

While you may have read about them in reports of far-flung wars or top secret operations, the idea that they’d somehow be integrated into normal life didn’t cross many minds.

But then Amazon announced that they would be ditching the passé postal system in favour of nifty little drones for their book deliveries and suddenly drones exploded into the realm of the ordinary and commercial.

And surprisingly it hasn’t taken long for the trend to catch on in South Africa. Just think about the UAS zooming around the North Gauteng High Court on the first day of the Oscar Pistorius trial or above the procession of vehicles for Madiba’s lying in state in December.

In both cases, these little wonders of technology granted certain media agencies the opportunity to rise above the rest – quite literally.  

Less controversially, drones were even employed to deliver beers to revellers at Oppikoppi last year and have managed to capture some unprecedented wildlife footage, opening up a realm of possibility for conservation and adventure enthusiasts.  

Unsurprisingly this sudden surge in use of drones by ordinary people has caused a bit of a headache for aviation authorities, as there are currently no clear parameters for the use of UAS.  

So much so that the South African Civil Aviation Authority announced that they would be clamping down on the illegal flying of drones in civil airspace.  

Because current aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of drones in South African civil aviation airspace, this means that you’re pretty much flying a drone illegally if you’re flying one at all.

So what’s the worst that can happen?

Well, offenders will be hit with fines of up to R50 000 and or a prison sentence of up to 10 years.  

Yup, it’s pretty intense!

We asked our readers what they thought of the clampdown and here are a few of the responses:

Blame the hobbiests and cowboys!

Sebastian Meredith - I agree that there needs to be regulations in place, but the SACAA needs to consult with all those involved, especially companies like ours that operate multirotor "drones" in a commercial capacity (film making, commercials, corporate, events etc.) The problem is the hobbiests and cowboys do not always enforce the same safety and security measures that the professional operators use on every shoot and end up giving the industry and technology a bad name.  

A forum to voice our opinions and suggestions needs to be opened, regulated and feedback given.  

Temporary permits for operating on application needs to be awarded for commercial operators until a decision/regulation has been drawn up.

We are financially reliant on our invested technology and cannot simply stop operation until a decision is made.  

Tony Becker - Any kind of danger in the airspace has to regulated. Imaging bringing down a passenger jet or crashing, even a radio controlled model plane into a crowd. I think that is why the CAA has requested constructive suggestions.  

John Gore - As a professional operator of drones in the film industry, I can't agree with you more. We are glad the CAA is finally moving on this matter. Yes, its very good new for us professionals. We always get locked off area and full permission from authorities and land owners for our operations, but then most drone / hobby guys do not seek out any permissions, fly over crowds of people, public roads, etc. Glad to see the CAA is taking this seriously now, and we will be the first in line to get fully certified.

Eugene Cussons - Problem is that any object, no matter what altitude, is still in 'airspace'. CAA has to figure out how to improve safety of a form of flying that  
a.) Is not in contact with airspace and  
b.) Has no pilot or system to avoid collision  
c.) Is operated by a person that has no aviation training.  

The problem now is that a lot of guys are not willing to wait for regulations and they ARE giving UAV's a bad name by operating them above built up areas and with advanced software that allows them to fly out of view. That is irresponsible and a menace to qualified aviators. The use of these machines should be confined to the use at RC clubs for which the law does provide.  

What about all the people/shops selling drones?

Dmitri Dumas - The shops that sell the kits/drones do not even know of these laws. Is the CAA going to go to each and every hobby shop and explain this to them. Are they (CAA) going to contact gumtree, olx etc to monitor who sells/buys drones.  

So how are they going to implement this once the laws are drawn up? Do you sit and write an exam? I do have a suggestion for the traffic department. Seeing as I hardly ever see a traffic official monitoring traffic, how about a drone to monitor the traffic. Oh my bad, I forgot about the tender/kickback process !!!

What next? Paper planes?

Warren - Absurd! What next, paper planes? I don't see how its fair to impose a fine while not offering a solution to it- a private pilots license would be a ridiculous demand for a dad and his kid playing with an R/C plane.  These regulations should be for aviation safety- ie the safety of the public.

Stifling of innovation  

Malcolm McLeod - Way to stifle experimentation and innovation, and then they wonder why so few new gadgets come from our country and why we are net importers.

Enforcing something that isn’t even a law?!  

SaintBruce Bruce - I would like to know how someone can be fined for a violation of NOTHING! If there are no regulations [ drones and quad copters have been around for about 4 years now] governing their use - the USA is looking at max 400 meters altitude I believe for hobbyist drones - then how on earth can a judge rule where no law exists.  

These guys have sat on their fat behinds and have not bothered to keep up with global trends.  This is another of those heavy handed Government responses where THEY have failed to do their jobs [ just like e-tolls approach].  

The drones are here and getting better and higher with more range every week. Instead of shouting at the public, catch a wake up and observe how sensible countries have already accommodated drones in their airspace.  

Denel developed drones for the military - so where do these fly?  

Drones have been deployed in the fight against Rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park - must they now be grounded because you guys are asleep and our national treasure gets plundered?  


Susan Economakis - What I can't understand - how can they fine you, for flying a drone that is not prohibited by any law, does not require any registration or documentation? What law are they going to use, as there are no laws prohibiting a drone to fly?

Just copy Australia’s drone regulations, problem solved

Peter Newmarch - SACAA is still operating in the dark ages. Industry has for years been asking for regulations - they don't even respond to requests and it's impossible to get a meeting with them.

Drones are not new, they have been around for years and many countries have regulations in place for them.

Just copy Australia's Drone regulations - problem solved.  

Strange that all of a sudden, after sitting on their asses hoping the technology goes away, they now "wake" up. No doubt after the reporter got their statement they are already asleep on the job again.

Desperate need for drones in anti-poaching  

Christo Muller - We are in desperate need of UAV's in the combat against poaching. These drones can be used to perform perimeter patrols by means of GPS co-ordinates. The only reason why we have not invested in this technology is because of the simple fact that it is illegal until you are licensed by SACAA. Now it seems we will never get there.......

What about model aircraft?

Russell Witthuhn -  There are currently old laws in place for RC flying, that being no flying over 50m or over crowds of people and not in built up areas. If for some reason you end up damaging a vehicle or person while flying illegally as per above, you are liable for the costs. Simple. And as stated above, you can’t compare a 1-2kg RC copter or foamy as a military UAV, that's just stupid.  

Sage Wiseman -  Bull !!!

THE CAA has regulations  

The CAA Regulations limit the maximum height a Model aircraft may fly in the RSA to 150 feet above ground level. (Ha Ha Feet Fine them for not using metric) After representation to the CAA and the presentation of a working paper,  requesting legalization of a 400 foot flying height for model aircraft, to CARCOM at a meeting the 10th February 2011, SAMAA as the ARO for  Model Aircraft in the RSA was given approval, subject to the conditions set down in the paper, to allow model aircraft to fly up to 400 feet agl. at SAMAA Registered Clubs or fields.

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Read more on:    mytravels  |  air travel  |  travel  |  travel south africa  |  aviation

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