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Drone Flying in SA: Know the Do’s and Don’ts

Photo by Luke Bell

Drones have revolutionised the way we view aerial photography.

With this smooth piece of tech, capturing footage that would previously have been ridiculously expensive, require years of training or would have just been downright impossible is now a not so distant reality. South Africa has some of the most beautifully picturesque areas in the world, with magnificent landscapes and scenery stretching further (and higher) than the eye can see, neon-lit cities and colourful cultures. It’s every photographer’s dream and the perfect destination drone zone. However, as with most nice things in life, there are laws to abide by when flying your new gizmo in the land of the Big Five.

The regulations governing drone flying in South Africa had remained largely unregulated for some time, particularly those dealing with recreational use. However, with recent years seeing an increase in the use of these machines (and of course, people just doing really dumb things with them) authorities have tightened control on the “Do’s” and “Do not’s” when flying.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) have laid out these laws and they need to be followed, unless you’re one to appreciate a hefty fine or even jail time. If you’re intending to fly your drone for commercial gain (that is, if you’re that confident in your photography skills that you think you could make a buck off it) you’ll require a Remote Pilot License (RPL). Find out more about that here. Furthermore, you’ll need to get your drone, or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) registered. Although flying a drone solely for recreational purposes does not require registration of the machine, nor the RPL, rules for general use and “no-fly zones” still apply.

What You Need to Know (And What It Means)

Unless approved by the SACAA, DO NOT fly/operate any Remotely Piloted Aircraft:
• Near manned aircraft
This means that you may not try and race an aeroplane using your drone. No. Just, no. Think about what would happen if you flew your drone into an aeroplane. But, someone has, which is probably why the law exists.
• 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
Remember: all hospitals have helipads.
• Weighing more than 7 kg
If you’re flying recreationally, you won’t have to worry about this one, anyway – the DJI Spark, and the newer Ryze Tello, powered by DJI, are super lightweight.
• In controlled, restricted or prohibited airspace, which includes:
- Near crime scenes, courts of law or prisons
- Near Power Stations
- Near National Key Points
- In any SANParks controlled National Park, such as Table Mountain National Park, Kruger National Park and all other National Parks
• Keep your drone at least 50m away from:
- Any person or group of persons (like sport fields, road races, stadiums, schools, social events and yes, even those beautiful beaches)
- All public roads
- Any property, without permission from property owner. So, if you were thinking you now have a great opportunity to spy on your grouchy next-door neighbour, maybe you should can that idea
• Finally, they may not be used for transportation or delivery of items
Rumour has it that this may change quite soon

Furthermore, you should:
• Always fly/operate the drone in a safe manner
• Have your drone remain within the visual line of sight
• Fly/operate the drone in daylight and clear weather conditions
Inspect your aircraft before each flight

As restricting as these regulations may seem – and let’s face it, they are – they’re 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.

According to a few licensed drone-flying pros, though, there are ways and areas in which one could get that perfect shot, so don’t lose heart just yet.

Somewhere along the magnificently unspoiled scenery of South Africa, you’ll find a few places where you could allow your drone to take to the skies. Before heading off to any location, though, it would be best that you properly familiarise yourself with the regulations, as set out by the relevant authorities. One can never be too sure ;-)

All of that said, 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’s most likely 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.

The information provided in this article is based on our understanding of the SACAA RPA regulations and its purpose is to provide helpful information on the subject discussed. The article is not meant to be used as a replacement for thorough research on the subject of drone-flying regulations. Legally accepted guidelines can be found on the SACAA website.
weFix and the author are not responsible for any loss, damage or any legal action taken against the drone operator resulting from the misinterpretation of the regulations by the reader and/or drone operator.