No legal use of drones in SA any time soon

A team led by Nebraska university scientists has won a federal grant to further develop aerial drones that could hover over and sample water from lakes, ponds and streams that people can't easily reach. (Nati Harnik, AP)
A team led by Nebraska university scientists has won a federal grant to further develop aerial drones that could hover over and sample water from lakes, ponds and streams that people can't easily reach. (Nati Harnik, AP)
Johannesburg - The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) says it will have conclusive guidelines and legislature for the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or so called drones, in South Africa by March 2015.

The regulator said in a statement it "would not put profits ahead of public or aviation safety" by rushing the process,  which is already a contentious issue globally.

"The current Civil Aviation Regulations prescribe specific requirements for operating an aircraft in the South African airspace. To date, no UAS has been able to comply with these requirements,” Phindiwe Gwebu, spokesperson for the SACAA said in the statement.

The regulator slammed reports that it had banned the use of drones as “inaccurate” but also said it had not given any concession or approval to any organisation to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace.

The commercial use of drones is banned in the US, but the country’s FAA is considering giving permission to certain US companies "who can demonstrated that it will not pose a safety risk and would serve the public interest", reports.
The report estimates the sector to worth $82bn (about R883bn @ R10.77/$) according to US Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, causing industry groups to urgently lobby for the US to relax its rules.
Gwebu said attempts to reduce the SACAA’s safety and security concern to a debate between UAS and toys, “that generally do not require any operating permission from any government agency” were misguided by “a small group of individuals which, on the surface, seem to have limited understanding of the aviation sector and how it is regulated”.
"The SACAA is aware of the urgent need and demand for UAS implementation for commercial and it was working together with civil aviation authorities worldwide, under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to understand, define and ultimately integrate into the civil aviation sector."

The SACAA is however compiling an interim guidance document as a provisional solution to enable restricted operational approval on a case-by-case basis, until maturity is attained by both the industry and the SACAA - set to be finalised by March 2015.

Approval for this interim document has been set for 31 March 2015 with key security and safety aspects outlined as follows:

- To ensure that the technology installed on UAS is able to detect and avoid incidents and accidents.

-The need to develop robust standards that will ensure separation from other aircraft or objects.

- An allocated frequency spectrum needs to be secure in order to provide protection from unintentional or unlawful interference with the UAS.

CAA Rules for the Operation of model aircraft are detailed as follows, however multi-rotors and UAV's are not "model aircraft":

94.06.11   Exemptions
Model aircraft are exempted from these regulations –
except from regulation 94.05.1; and
provided that no model aircraft shall be flown –
higher than 150 feet above the surface; or
from or above a public road;
unless –
with the prior approval of the Commissioner and on conditions determined by him or her; or
in airspace specifically approved for the purpose b

Gwebu said the SACAA will continue to engage with industry and will remain receptive to any input from role-players.

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