New rules threaten to ground drones, industry body says


A GIMMICK or an act of frustration? The Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (Cuaasa) delivered a letter in a drone on Wednesday to Transport Minister Dipuo Peters explaining that drones would be grounded by new legislation due to take effect next month.

Ironically, the drone was not flown, in line with current legislation and the presence of a team from the Hawks at an event in Centurion. The association, representing 60 companies in the industry, is lobbying Ms Peters to publish technical standards and testing protocols for drone pilots, provisions that do not exist.

Without such standards, no pilot would be able to apply to fly drones when the regulations come into effect. The association also wants experienced pilots to be distinguished from novice applicants who have never flown when licences to fly drones are issued.

Last month the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) announced tighter regulation of the use of drones due to take effect next month, warning that penalties for contraventions were as steep as 10 years in jail or a R50,000 fine, or both, because of a number of safety and security risks.

Operators will need a licence to fly a drone. Licence applications will take two months to be granted and fees are as high as R150,000.

However, Cuaasa president Hennie Kieser said the association estimated that the training of seasoned pilots could cost between R2,000 and R8,000, instead of the R150,000 for novice applicants.

“We have pilots that … are considered the top pilots in the country, and we want to ask the minister to grant these licences as soon as possible,” said Mr Kieser.

Instead of hiring expensive overseas pilots, experienced pilots could be certification examiners for the SACAA, Mr Kieser said.

SA is one of the first countries to draft regulations for drone use.

Although new flying regulations are yet to come into effect, locally designed and manufactured drones are being exported globally for military and commercial use.

Mr Kieser said the minister had also been asked to exclude drones from certification by the Air Services Licensing Council.

This would “regulate drones with the same rigorous processes used for passenger airlines and commercial freight”, and was “untenable and unreasonable”.

Transport economist Roelof Botha estimated the value of the local drone industry at more than R500m, accounting for between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs.

“This is a sector that is worth protecting and maintaining. It has an integral part to play as part of air transport infrastructure.”

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