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Drone Regulation in South Africa

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Drone Regulation in South Africa

Drones have become one of the latest and greatest technological gadgets that everybody seems to want. However, that does not mean to say that there weren’t or aren’t problems in terms of the legality of owning or flying them. For example, back in 2014 an instruction was given by Poppy Khoza (the Director of Civil Aviation) that grounded all drones pending the implementation of steadfast regulations to govern these new “toys”.

Without strict rules in place, flying these drones has caused a bit of trouble in countries around the world, for example, in America a drone crash landed in the White House gardens resulting in the White House going into lockdown due to a fear of it being a “weaponised drone”. These have been the fears in a number of circumstances such as a drone “attack” on the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a number of times where someone has flown a drone over fully packed stadiums. Then we have had drones almost crash into news helicopters, there was almost a collision with an Airbus A320 on take-off. There have been further worries due to environmental concerns, a drone crash landed in the Grand Prismatic Spring, and one drone was actually attacked by a red-tailed hawk. Further there have been reported injuries to people, in Japan a 4kg drone flew into a crowd of people injuring six, another drone injured an Australian athlete, and another cut off the tip of a photographer’s nose.

The laws regarding the use and flying of drones can be found in Part 101 of the CAA, these rules have been briefly discussed below. In terms of using a drone for personal use, one can be grateful that a few of these rules have been excluded.

If a drone is to be flown for private use, it’s operator will not require a letter of approval from the Director, nor will he/she require a license. Further exclusions are that the pilot will not need an operators certificate nor will they be required to maintain the drone in the same manner required if it were to be used for Commercial use.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has introduced a number of guidelines for the use of drones, and it has been set out quite nicely on their website under the general information. When it comes to using a drone for private purposes, these are some of the acceptable uses for a drone.

(a)   The Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAS) may only be used for an individual’s personal and private purposes where there is no commercial outcome, interest or gain;

(b)   The pilot must observe all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by any other authorities.

A list of do’s and don’ts has also very nicely been set up:

DO NOT, through act or omission, endanger the safety of another aircraft or person therein or any person or property through negligent flying/operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft.

Do not fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft 50 m or closer from:

  • Any person or group of persons (like sports field, road races, schools, social events, etc.)
  • Any property without permission from the property owner.

Unless approved by the SACAA, DO NOT fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft:

  • Near manned aircraft
  • 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
  • Weighing more than 7 kg
  • In controlled airspace
  • In restricted airspace
  • In prohibited airspace.

Do not fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft higher than 150m from the ground, unless approved by the Director of Civil Aviation of the SACAA.


  • Fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft in a safe manner, at all times.
  • Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft should remain within the visual line of sight at all times.
  • Fly/operate RPA in daylight and clear weather conditions.
  • Inspect your aircraft before each flight.

Some more general provisions regulating the flight of drones, be it for personal or commercial use includes provisions that:

  • restricts alcohol consumption, require pre-flight preparations;

Drones cannot be flown within 50m above or close to a person or crowd of people, structure or building – without prior SACAA approval. Nor can you fly drones adjacent to or above:

  • a nuclear power plant
  • a prison
  • a police station
  • a crime scene
  • a court of law
  • national key points
  • may not fly higher than 400 ft/150 m above the ground;
  • may not fly within a 10 km radius of an aerodrome
  • requires that the operator maintains at least a 10% surplus fuel reserve;
  • requires a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher within 300m of the take-off and landing point/s;
  • considering traffic, drones must always give way to manned aircraft.

If one wanted to operate an RPA for commercial purposes, the drone must first be registered and approved by the CAA, and the operator will require an RPA’s pilot’s license.

In order to get the abovementioned license, one must undergo medical certification, certification of radiotelephony, English proficiency, flight training, and passing both a theoretical examination and skills test. Only persons over the age of 18 will be eligible for a license and it is only valid for 24 months. 90 days prior to the expiry of the license, the license holder will also have to go through a revalidation check in order to renew it.

There are three different categories in which a license can be issued, aeroplane, helicopter or multi-rotor. These licenses may include additional ratings such as visual line-of-sight operations, extended visual line-of-sight operations and beyond visual line-of-sight operations.

To make these laws even stricter, a pilot is required to keep a pilot logbook detailing each flight much like that of a normal manned aircraft.

In South Africa, drones are used extensively in farming, in wildlife management to save dwindling animal populations, maintain power lines, monitor traffic flows and provide security surveillance of assets in remote parts of our country. Other common uses for drones around the world, this is not only in South Africa as some of these are against the CAA or just not applicable, include:

  • Aerial photography for journalism and film.
  • Express shipping and delivery
  • Gathering information or supplying essentials for disaster management
  • Thermal sensor drones for search and rescue operations
  • Geographic mapping of inaccessible terrain and locations
  • Building safety inspections
  • Precision crop monitoring
  • Unmanned cargo transport
  • Law enforcement and border control surveillance
  • Storm tracking and forecasting hurricanes and tornadoes

The price of drones in South Africa span across a massive range, you could collect a cheap drone for about R400 (basically a children’s toy) however, this price goes all the way up to R85 399.

With the price of drones as high as they are, if you wanted to you could get one even more expensive than the figure mentioned above, it may be a wise idea to think about insurance.

Let rsquo;s take Hollard for example, they will insure your drone against loss, damage and liability related to the drone itself, as well as premises, hangarkeepers, and product liability. It is common knowledge that the main purpose of a drone is it’s ability to capture images from above, Hollard will even insure you against the loss of data. However, this insurance comes with certain requirements. These requirements include:

  • Passing a medical exam in order to determine your physical competence
  • Obtain a radio telephony licence, which includes knowing all the rules that govern the act of flying a drone for commercial purposes
  • Passing theory and practical exams
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Being proficient in English in order to comply with international air control standards


From the above it is clear that the flying of drones in South Africa is now strictly monitored, in fact it is the intention of the CAA to train SAPS and other enforcement agencies to be proficient in the understanding of these laws in order to effectively implement the use of drones across the country.

For those who need to ‘straighten up and fly right’ we’re here to take away the turbulence and help you enjoy the journey.

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