Drones have become even more popular over the last several years, with professionals and hobbyists around the world utilizing them for myriad use cases. In fact, the global drone services market is expected to exceed $63 billion (USD) by 2025—up from just $4.4 billion in 2018. In turn, drone shipments will reach a staggering 29 million by 2021.
Of all the places to fly a drone, South Africa is one of the most exciting. The country is known for an abundance of wildlife and breathtaking coastal scenery. It also has dense urban areas that are rife with commercial opportunity; South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, has 5.6 million people.
Just like any other country, though, South Africa has laws governing where, when, and how you can fly a drone. Before we dive into those specifics, let’s cover the basics.
What Is a Drone?
A drone is any system that utilizes a ground-based controller in conjunction with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Some drones are very small, while others are large. They can also be classified depending on range. For example, some fly at very close range, while others can cover much farther distances. That said, most drones can only travel within one mile of their controller.
Top Use Cases for Drones
Drones are employed for various purposes today. Hobbyists and amateurs tend to use drones largely for aerial photography and video purposes. At the same time, drones are also becoming increasingly popular for scientific, commercial, and agricultural purposes. South Africa in particular has an abundance of farmland, and drones are often used to seed fields, as well as for planting and spraying.
Now that you have a better idea of how people use drones today, let’s examine some things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about flying a drone in South Africa.
Flying a Drone in South Africa
Flying a drone is completely legal in South Africa. Users just need to adhere to the rules outlined by South Africa’s national aviation agency, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).
Unlicensed drone use is allowed for any drone weighing 15.4 pounds (~7kg) or less. Drones weighing more than 15.4 pounds (~7kg) require special permission from the SACAA.
This shouldn’t be a problem for most users. However, it’s a noticeable difference from the US, where unlicensed drone use is acceptable at a weight of up to 55 pounds (~25kg).
Add it all up, and it’s important to know how much your drone weighs before heading out to fly it in South Africa.
It should come as no surprise that there are certain places in South Africa where you’re not allowed to fly a drone.
For example, drones may not be flown within six miles of an airport without special permission. What’s more, drones may not be flown within 164 feet (~50 meters) of people or private property without permission from the property owner.
Generally speaking, it’s not easy to tell when you’re approaching 164 feet (~50 meters), especially from the air. So, to avoid running into complications, it’s best to steer clear of populated areas when flying drones. At the same time, you should secure permission ahead of time in case someone complains about your activities.
Line of Sight
For safety reasons, South African law mandates that all users maintain a visual line of sight with their drone while it’s in use.
In other words, you have to be able to see the drone from where you’re operating it. This is to avoid collisions with other aircraft, buildings, wildlife, or individuals.
If your certain use case requires you to fly a drone beyond line of sight, you have to seek a special approval from the SACAA and comply with the specific requirements.
Drones may only be flown in South Africa during daylight hours. Again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t fly a drone at night. If you want to fly a drone after the sun sets, you’ll need to secure permission before doing so. Flying a drone at night without permission could result in fines or penalties.
South Africa’s Commercial Drone Rules
The SACAA permits commercial drone use in South Africa. Still, the agency has a number of rules that drone operators need to adhere to, which we’ll briefly examine next.
Requirement I: Personal License Requirement
Users must obtain a valid remote pilot license (RPL) in order to fly a drone for commercial, corporate, or nonprofit use in South Africa.
There are three types of licenses, including Remote Pilot License (aeroplane), Remote Pilot License (helicopter), and Remote Pilot License (multi-rotor).
Additionally, applicants need to be at least 18 years old and be in proper health. Further, users are required to have aviation training organization (ATO) training or approved training from a foreign body. Applicants must also pass a practical assessment, a radiotelephony exam, and an English language proficiency exam.
It’s also important to be wary of third-party organizations offering any sort of authorization or testing. There are various scams on the internet from agencies pretending to offer licenses and certifications. You should only try to obtain and submit applications through the SACAA.
All RPA licenses are valid for two years. And at the end of the two-year licensing period, users must go through a revalidation check before initiating the renewal process.
Requirement II: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Operator Certificate
In addition to obtaining a personal license, users wishing to fly drones for commercial purposes in South Africa must also obtain an RPAS operator certificate (ROC), which is in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) five-step process (similar to the US Part 135 operator certificate). This includes going through a pre-application, formal application, document evaluation, demonstration, and inspection. You also need to go through a certification process and obtain third-party liability insurance.
Upon completion of this process, users receive an ROC certificate that’s valid for one year. Users must go through the application process again once the year is complete.
Beyond this, users must also adhere to various rules. For example, license holders must develop an operations manual, including the scope and type of operations. Plus, they need to create a safety management system to identify and address any potential safety hazards and risks that the user might experience while operating their craft.
Additional requirements include passing a background check, periodic criminal records checks, and more.
FAQ: South African Drone Laws
Can You Fly Drones in South Africa’s National Parks?
South Africa is famous for its national parks, which are full of zebras, wildebeests, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and all other kinds of wildlife. However, operating a drone in South Africa’s national parks is illegal and will result in hefty penalties. Authorities may fine you, confiscate your drone, or even ban you from flying drones in South Africa for life.
If you want to use a drone in one of South Africa’s parks, contact the SACAA and get ready to go through the proper authorization channels.
Are Drones Used for Anti-Poaching Purposes in South Africa?
Poaching—or the illegal hunting of wild animals—remains a major issue in South Africa.
Law enforcement agencies regularly use drones to combat this nefarious practice. As such, drones are playing an integral role when it comes to helping law enforcement identify and track down perpetrators.
Is the South African Climate Good for Flying Drones?
South Africa typically has a very temperate climate. Most of the time, the weather is sunny and dry.
Some parts of the country, like the eastern and southern mountains, can experience heavy rainfall at certain times of the year. If you’d like to fly a drone in an area of South Africa that is known for heavy rainfall, make sure to obtain a weather-resistant drone that will not get damaged.
The Bottom Line
If you’re interested in flying drones, South Africa is one of the best places on the planet to do it. Like anything else, you just need to research the regulations to ensure you fly a drone within the confines of the law.
For more information on the safest and most secure way to fly drones in South Africa, check this out.
This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.