Get your wings!

So, you want to buy and fly a drone? This is what you need to know …

Drones are a global phenomenon. They have changed aerial photography forever and allowed surveillance to make enormous progress. It seems drones have almost limitless applications and benefits.

In South Africa, drone flying is subject to regulations that are widely considered to be some of the most stringent in the world. Laws and regulations were borrowed from existing aviation laws, and made to fit the sphere of drones and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

Rules and regulations

This adaptation of existing rules instead of the creation of bespoke rules could be challenging for people with disabilities. The current requirements of maintaining radio contact with aviation authorities prove difficult for anyone with a full or partial speech impediment. A Class 4 Aviation medical certificate is required to fly a drone if it is not strictly for private reasons, which includes a lung test, electrocardiogram (ECG) and a chest X-ray. People who treat their diabetes with insulin cannot qualify, as a precaution against the possibility of a drone crashing due to the pilot having a diabetic seizure.

While hobbyists are only subject to two sets of rules, commercial use of drones is regulated further. Per the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)’s website, drones may be used privately without these certificates and qualifications, providing the use of the drone has absolutely no commercial outcome, is flown on property owned by the operator (or with permission), never less than 50 m from any person or group of people and never further than 500 m from the pilot, nor higher than any obstacle within 300 m.

Unpacking the costs

But, what does it cost to buy a drone? A good-quality drone with camera capability costs at least R8 000, while the top-of-the-range Alta UAV costs just over R160 000.

Then, you need to get a licence. According to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), budding drone pilots need to contact any one of the numerous SACAA-approved flight schools that offer drone-pilot certification. The course has a theoretical and practical component. The course costs around R22 850. A radio licence and English proficiency exam is also required.

“The theory instruction covers drone-related information such as batteries, data links and components – as well as aviation-related information such as navigation, flight planning and aerodynamics – and a whole range of subjects that manned pilots also study in order to become accredited,” explains Rick Bosman from Cranfield Aviation Training in Gauteng.

Once you have done the course, you will get a remote pilot’s licence (RPL). The issuing of a RPL costs R500, as does renewal every second year.

If you want to work as a drone pilot commercially, a remote operator certificate (ROC) is required. This can be obtained from SACAA. The issuing of the ROC costs R3 710 with a R2 490 annual renewal fee.

Droning is fun!

CEO of QASA Ari Seirlis says that droning offers wonderful opportunities for people with physical disabilities and mobility impairments to “get out there and explore with the eyes of the drone”. He sums the drone industry up by saying: “If you can operate a smartphone or a tablet, you can fly a drone.”

The possibilities are vast, limited only by the pilot’s creativity and the configuration of their drone. People with disabilities can even learn to pilot a drone using a virtual-reality headset, experiencing flight and freedom, or even earning an income for the video footage and photography.

So, there you have it: rush out and buy that drone immediately!

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