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South Africa saw the first ever licenced crop-spraying drone

While the idea of drone flying is still relatively new, these toy aircraft are becoming a must-have tool for many photographers where a photo-series is not complete without aerial footage.

As drones become more accessible to the public and are gaining popularity within many commercial markets – especially property – it is important to know there are rules and regulations when it comes to flying a drone, including safety precautions that need to be followed.

Significantly, South Africa saw the first ever licenced crop-spraying drone take to the skies in KZN earlier this year.

In 2016, South Africa passed drone legislation regulating the sector under the country’s Civil Aviation Authority.

What this means to the layman is that if you are intending to fly your drone for commercial gain (that is, if you are confident enough in your photography skills to make money out of it) you will require a Remote Pilot License (RPL) and you will be required to get your drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) registered.

Although flying a drone solely for recreational purposes does not require a license or registration of the machine the rules for general use, where you can fly as well as safety precautions need to be followed.

The no-fly zones under the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) also applies to the recreational user and carry penalties of a hefty fine or even jail time if you ignore them.

According to remote pilot licence instructor Ian Melamed from Pro-Wings Training, the first SACAA approved Remote Pilot Licence training school in South Africa, when flying a drone it is important to ensure the safety of everyone in the vicinity.

“Also consider the privacy of your neighbours and the safety of their property as you are not allowed to fly your drone over any property without permission from the property owner.”
 
The Civil Aviation Authority prohibits anyone flying a drone 50m or closer from any person or group of people, for example school sports fields, road races, stadia and community events.

Drones are banned from national parks and protected conservation areas. This is because some visitors have used their drones to disturb or chase wild animals.

“Only drones used for wildlife conservation and research purposes are allowed, subject to special permission,” said Ian who headed up the drone anti-rhino poaching team at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve.

“As restricting as these regulations may seem, they are obviously there for a reason. A drone is not always an obedient piece of machinery.

“Losing control of your drone, even for a short time, could have it collide or even crash into surrounding people and property.

“Furthermore, we doubt anyone would want one flying into their private space.”

Although the current drone laws are quite prohibitive, the idea of drone flying, especially recreationally, is still fairly new.

However, with technology continuously evolving and innovation being a constant presence, it is only a matter of time before these relatively fluid regulations become less restricting. But for now, stay in your safe zone and enjoy your drone.

If you’d like to obtain a license from the SACAA to fly commercially, you will be required to obtain aviation training at an approved training organisation.

The cost to obtain a fully accredited licence is about R12500, which includes theory and practical training.


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