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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  • What caught the attention of SACAA and brought about this intervention was the flying of multirotors at the Nelson Mandela hospital location and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Apparently a guy was apprehended flying a multirotor over the players at a rugby match recently too. The regs for model aircraft clearly state no flying over people or built-up areas, hence the reaction.

    There's no reference to 'internal navigaton system' because these regulations don't deal with UAVs, except to name them under the certification requirements. But then there are no certification requirements provided. So we are effectively in a legal vacuum until the regulations are amended.

    The irony of this is that it restricts 'serious' UAV users who are in the commercial, governmental, research and scientific areas, and still allows recreational drone flyers to carry on with FPV flying, provided none of the operating limits of model aircraft are exceeded.

  • I've been searching SA Civil Aviation Regulations, 2011 for any thing that could relate to " internal navigation systems in model aircraft." and was unsuccessful. The only relation possibly made was under model aircraft definition but then again if it for recreation it does not apply, if an SAMAA member or other could guide me to these regs or AIC please. 

    Below is some interesting extracts from the reg's. this obviously does not apply to SAMAA as they have approval from the Director to do otherwise I hope.

    Definitions of interest:

    “model aircraft” means a heavier-than-air aircraft of limited dimensions, with or without a propulsion device, unable to carry a human being and to be used for competition, sport or recreational purposes rather than unmanned aeronautical vehicles (UAV) developed for commercial or governmental, scientific, research or military purposes, and not exceeding the specifications as set by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale as listed in Document SA-CATS 24;

    “aviation recreation” means flying microlight, glider, balloon, gyroplane, hang-glider, paraglider, model aircraft, light sport aeroplane, touring motor glider, parachute or involvement in aviation events;

    SA-CATS 24

    Airworthiness Standards: Non-Type Certificated Aircraft



    14.Model aircraft


    General Characteristics of Model Aircraft

    (1) The general characteristics of model aircraft are set by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and may be found in section 4 of its document ABR, Part 4 C.

    (2) Unless otherwise stated, model aircraft shall meet the following general specifications:

    (a)maximum flying weight with fuel 25kg;

    (b) maximum surface area 5m2;

    (c) maximum loading 5kg/m2;

    (d) maximum swept volume of piston motor(s) 250cm3;

    (e)electric motors power source maximum no-load voltage 42 volts;

    (f)metal-bladed propellers are prohibited.

    (3) Model helicopters shall meet the following general specifications:

    (a)Maximum weight with fuel 5kg;

    (b)maximum swept area of the lifting rotor(s) counting only once any superimposed areas 3m2:

    Provided that in the case of co-axial model helicopters whose rotors are further than one rotor diameter apart, the total area of both rotors is counted;

    (c) piston motor swept volume maximum 10 cm3;

    (d) rubber motor no restrictions.

    (4) Free-flying model aircraft Free-flying model aircraft that are neither radio- or line-controlled shall not have a maximum mass exceeding 5 kg.

    (5) Noise limitations:

    (a) Noise limitations shall be applied to powered model aircraft categories, with 96 dB (A) at 3 meters for any category, which does not have approval for any other noise rule. Specific noise measuring procedures are to be developed by relevant national body in which model aircraft operators are associated.

    (b) Noise limits do not apply to model aircraft with electric motors.



    Part 101

    Operation of Line-Controlled Kites, Model Aircraft, Captive and Unmanned Free Balloons

    Conditions for flight: Model Aircraft

    101.00.3   (1) No model aircraft shall be flown –

    (a)  by night;

    (b) higher than 150 feet above the surface;  (45.72meters)

    (c) from or above a public road;

    (d) within a distance of 8 kilometer from the aerodrome reference point of an aerodrome licensed or   approved in terms of Part 139 of the Regulations and situated in Class G airspace.

    (2)  Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-regulation (1), the Commissioner may in writing, and on conditions set by him or her –

    (a) exempt anyone from the provisions of sub-regulation (1)(d); and

    (b) exempt anyone from the provisions of sub-regulations (1)(a), (b) and (d) in airspace specifically approved by the Commissioner for the purpose of flying model aircraft.


    94.06.11   Operation of model aircraft.—Model aircraft are exempted from these Regulations—

    (a)except from regulation 94.05.1; and

    SUBPART 5: RULES OF THE AIR Conditions for flight

    94.05.1   (1)  Unless granted permission by the Director or the organisation designated for the purpose in terms of part 149, as the case may be, on a case-by-case basis, a non-type certificated aircraft may not be flown—

    (a)by night;

    (b)in meteorological conditions less than those prescribed as suitable for flight under VFR;

    (c)within controlled airspace, unless cleared by and on conditions prescribed by ATC; or

    (d)within 5 NM from the aerodrome reference point of an aerodrome, licensed or approved in terms of part 139 of these regulations and situated in Class G airspace, unless established unmanned aerodrome procedures for the particular aerodrome can be adhered to; or

    (e)unless unavoidable, over built up areas and open-air assemblies of persons except for the purpose of take-off, transit and landing.

    (2)  Notwithstanding the provisions of subregulation (1) a non-type certificated aircraft may operate under IFR conditions by day if it has been granted permission in terms of regulation 24.02.3 (3) of these regulations.

    (3)  Notwithstanding the provisions of subregulation (1) (e), paragliders and hangliders, and powered versions thereof, may fly over built up areas provided they are foot-launched.)

     (b)provided that no model aircraft shall be flown—

    (i)higher than 150 feet above the surface; or

    (ii)from or above a public road,

    unless with the prior approval of the Director and on conditions determined by him or her; or in airspace specifically approved for the purpose by the Director and on conditions set by him or her for the use of such airspace.



  • Moderator

    I don't think African governments will permit the flights unless they get a substantial kickback. Of course if the platforms are at their predicted height of operation then they are above sovereign airspace which ends at 66'000 feet I think. In fact I'm not sure who owns above 66k.  

    @Cronslaar our platforms will always be deemed as RPAS as even if its BLOS you need a man or woman monitoring the C2 link. 

  • And Facebook wants to buy 11.000 drones to connect Africa to internet.


  • Moderator

    Well I pulled the pin and made it official Facebook no less ;-) https://www.facebook.com/RCAPAAfrica I am sure we can get enough sensible heads over there. Perhaps you would like to share there Cronselaar.

    RCAPA Southern Africa
    RCAPA Southern Africa. 64 likes. Simple common sense rules for the commercial flight of unmanned aircraft in Southern Africa. RCAPA is a 2000+ member…
  • The way i see it manned aircrafts shouldn't be flying lower than 500 feet unless in case of a rescue operation and other humanitarian reasons full stop but you can't restrict all the airspace because of that.

    Commercial use of UAS is generating at least a billion on a worldwide scale and it's a growing market that business wise it will be stupid to ban and restrict them to the point that they are being restricted as we speak. I do expect regulations yes but not restriction.

    They all put safety on the table when it comes to speaking about these systems but really.

    Does the department that issues car licenses being accused every-time a drunk driver decides to play it racer? Or does it hold any responsibility when the driver of the getaway car in the bank robbery carries a car license? NO... Then i don't see why the CAA and every CAA cares so much when someone is flying irresponsibly and causes damages and injuries... There are other departments to deal with this more efficiently and at the same time allow the market to grow..

    But what do you expect from people that will get payed either they generate money for their country or not?   

  • If you have any new information/documents I'll gladly share what I have as well... 

  • I'll just put this out there... During some research i've done lately and through speaking to the SACAA guys (one guy only actually), we are still a long shot off from getting any rues or regulations in place... Then also note  that all the rules and regulations being developed in Europe and America only relate to remotely piloted aircraft and not to autonomous craft... 

  • Moderator

    As Patrick put it no sense in reinventing the wheel. There is also the very excellent CAP 722 from the UK. No need for a transponder there, sensible rules and sensible pilot requirements.

  • That sounds fair.  If we going to be using the on-board tech for hobby purposes, stay within those rules... if you want commercial use, follow those.  That's a level headed response from Christiaan for sure.

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