CAA to hit illegal drone flyers with hefty fines


Johannesburg - The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is set to clamp down on the illegal flying of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in civil airspace.

According to a statement sent out by SACAA, the move was prompted by recent reports of UAS already operating in the South African civil aviation airspace.   

UAS are classified as any aircraft that can fly without a pilot on board. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be controlled remotely by an individual on the ground, in another aircraft or through an on board computer system.    

Current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace. 

"The fact is that the SACAA has not given any concession or approval to any organisation, individual, institution or government entity to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace. Those that are flying any type of unmanned aircraft are doing so illegally; and as the regulator we cannot condone any form of blatant disregard of applicable rules,” said Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation. 

While this was hardly problematic before, a surge in demand for the use of drones - especially for commercial purposes - has prompted the SACAA to integrate the use of drones into the South Africa airspace as speedily as possible.    

In the mean time, until regulations have been put in place, anyone caught operating a UAS could face fines of up to R50 000, a prison sentence of up to 10 years or both. 

The use of GoPro drones have proven to be particularly useful in the creation of video and photographic content for publications. The bird's eye footage not only provides alternative, fresh views of events and happenings, but also allows media access to crowded or inaccessible areas.

A recent example includes drones being sent up to gain unprecedented footage of the opening of the Oscar Pistorius trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

In June last year police officers apprehended a man who flew a radio-controlled mini helicopterover the Pretoria hospital, where former president Nelson Mandela was being treated.

Less controversially, drones can also be used to capture incredible never-seen-before natural imagery, such as this thousand-strong dolphin pod migration

As the regulator of civil aviation safety and security, the SACAA has noted the need to put regulations in place to deal specifically with UAVs.     

“Unmanned aircraft systems are a relatively new component of the civil aviation framework, one which the SACAA, together with other regulators worldwide and under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), are working to understand, define and ultimately integrate in to the civil aviation sector. As such, the process of developing policies, procedures, regulations and associated standards in order to certify and subsequently authorise operation of UAS is currently in progress,” Khoza explained.  

In collaboration with other ICAO member states, South Africa is working towards providing a regulatory framework and guidance material, to underpin routine operation of UAS in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.   

There are many factors to consider in the process of developing guidelines for authorisation, but the SACAA are targeting the end of the second quarter of this financial year to have some guideline document that could be followed. 

“The SACAA acknowledges that the current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace. We are also cognizant of the urgent need and demand for UAS usage for commercial and many other reasons. Hence, the SACAA has allocated the necessary resources to the UAS programme to ensure a speedy integration of drones into the South Africa airspace. However, until then we would like to appeal to those that are disregarding the laws to desist from such actions,” Khoza concluded.  



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  • I agree with Gary lets start this RCAPA and get UAS definitions in the rules and regulations. The thing is a UAS can make a farmers life easier in the sense of precision farming with NIR cameras and the mining industry can benefit from the 3D photo surveillance to get an estimate easier of what is the worth of minerals lying on their grounds before putting it on a train and sending it out and land surveyors can then easier get their accurate mapping data to do analysis with. What I am saying is basically the market is in need of UAS here in South Africa and I would not mind going for a UAS license and get all my aircrafts certified even if it means to put in a transponder of some sorts to let other planes know there is a UAS in the area.

  • As the owner of a very small online hobby shop, I find that there are too many grey areas when it comes to the latest catch word "Drone".  The article posted seems to be very general and not very specific at all.  An arducopter is a drone.  The article said the operation of any drone.  Does this mean that at the flying field we are not allowed to fly our radio controlled quad copters with safety features like altitude hold and stabilization and gps hold as these are autonomous functions controlled by a super computer? 

    Surely if we are flying within the scope of RC rules, these types of radio controlled contraptions still fall under the basic samaa principles and rules?  How about an easy to understand do and don'ts list?


    You may only fly line of sight.

    You may only climb to 150ft.

    You may not use the rc aircraft for commercial purposes unless you have the relevant operators license.


    Simple rules and regulations.


    Perhaps the sacaa think we are flying predator search and destroy drones.  Maybe they are misinformed which is why organization as listed above need to educate them.  There are rules created as not everyone's common sense equates to the same precautions.  We need these rules for sure.  What those rules are and how they are implemented can be more easily changed now through education.  Once they are in place, changing them after that will be very difficult. 


    If we want to make sure that we do not end up with the pointy end of the stick, we must get involved, complaining about it afterwards would be seriously stupid.  Its like not voting and then complaining about the government.


    My two cents...

  • This is ridiculously insane. 10 years in JAIL for flying a TOY? really. Looks like Africa is trying really hard to kill the UAS industry!

  • I don't think CAA really have an idea of how to deal with this. According to the description in article in news 24 any remotely controlled aircraft with out a pilot on board falls into the UAS category. I wonder what SAMAA has to say! What we are doing falls into two very distinct categories.. 1 Hobby 2 Commercial and very large grey area in the middle. This seems to be evolving similar to general aviation private flying vs commercial flying.

    I think the best handle on regulation expressed so far is how they deal with it in UK. see the article submitted by cirro1999. As a hobby,its fine with me as long as we are left alone within these sort of parameters.

  • It is hard to line up your shot when you throw the rock. Not any old rock will do ;-)


  • Moderator

    You are right Wayne, what were the SACAA to do when local media outlets flew over major news events. But tell me are you Kickstarting rocks now?

    I had forgotten you had spoken to the previous SACAA chap Patrick. They have seen the proposals then so lets start RCAPA SA or SA RCAPA. For now folks could just join at http://www.rcapa.net and we could work out the rest later. It is free of course. I doubt more than 20 people would sign up though. Let me see who I can round up.

    I agree Gagarien there will be some cross fertilization for the UA world and standard RC receivers will get cleverer.  

  • 100KM
    What if the rock had a camera strapped to it and was thrown for money. What if people started throwing rocks with cameras strapped to them at news events? I would think law enforcement would and should stop you from throwing rock over people's heads in crowded situations. It's not the uav that is the problem it's the people and their actions.
  • Why reinvent the wheel? You guys need an association that is already known like the RCAPA. We gave the RCAPA Proposed guidelines to the SA CAA back in 2008 and worked with representatives as part of the ICC and Eurocae.

  • But I agree Gary this is all about Operators or individuals using UAS/UAV  commercially without an AOC. The safety benefit of operating a properly tuned RC platform with AP system including fail safes outweigh conventional RC flying and should actually be mandatory item on RC planes........no not really but I think you get my point.

  • From SAMAA Policy on General Rules and Guidelines for Operation of Model... 

     " SAMAA 6.24) Internal Navigation Systems the CAA does not allow the use of internal navigation systems in model aircraft." 

     I will look into it and see if I can find the reg.

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