South Africa’s drone laws: Commercial Vs. Hobbyist (News Item)

As of July 1st 2016, South Africa is one of a few countries to have implemented laws regarding the use of drones for both commercial pilots and hobbyists. Individuals who fail to abide by these laws can expect fines of up to R50,000 or prison time. The comparison between commercial pilots and hobbyists is drastic as there are clear guidelines for commercial pilots to follow such as attaining a license and registering their drone, however hobbyists tend to cautiously fly in a ‘grey area’. Basic laws apply such as not being allowed to fly within 10km of any airstrip, fly in controlled airspaces such as over a prison or Military base, weigh more than 7kgs, among numerous others. However due to the fact that hobbyists require no training, many take to flight without doing their research, resulting in incidents such as the drone-nuclear power plant fiasco of August 2016.

These laws carry heavy punishments but are put in place to ensure the safety of individuals around drone flight. An untrained individual is a hazard to the general public as without the proper know how, a pilot could easily fly above the allowed 120m height restriction and interfere with aircraft putting the lives of hundreds of individuals at risk.

Basic requirements accompany drone purchases by the manufacturer such as:

– Be operated in a safe manner at all times
– Remain within visual line of sight at all times
– Be operated in daylight and clear weather conditions
– Be inspected before each flight

These requirements are common in all countries as it is common knowledge amongst drone users that breaching any of these guidelines will possibly result in harming an individual as well as damage to the drone itself, an expensive and careless mistake to make, with average drone prices coming in at around R30,000.

Recently, discussions surrounding privacy and damage to private properly in relation to drones have become more prominent. With inexperienced drone users flying over private property capturing images that infringe ones right to privacy within their own homes, discussions such as these, start to gain more momentum, thus resulting in further tension between drone owners and the general public. Individuals are requested to discuss any issues with drone pilots directly in order to resolve the situation before taking matters further. By law, flying over ones property does not constitute trespassing as no physical being has crossed the property line, however it can be argued that the noise of the drone could be disrupting the occupants. Lawyers stated that “In order for this to have any legal standing, one would have to prove damages caused as a result of the drone flight”, which is unlikely due to the sophisticated obstacle avoidance systems onboard your typical drones.

Rules around drones are important to note due to the heavy consequences that follow if they are not abided by. Drone users should all be familiar with The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidelines before taking flight with any airborne device. Any questions raised before a flight should be checked against CAA guidelines before any flight to ensure that the planned flight path is within regulations and still enables users to get the most out of their drone. Any doubt with regards to drone flight should put a delay to the flight to ensure that no individual is at risk as the safety of individuals around the flight path is paramount to the photography and videography aspect of the airborne device.


(All photos on this page are my own)


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