South African defence industry companies such as Denel and Paramount Group along with foreign manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), wanting to fly them at Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) later this year will only have to obtain military permission.
That’s the word from the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) whose Senior Manager: Communications Phindiwe Gwebu said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry that “full military rules” will apply as the event is taking place at an SA Air Force (SAAF) base.
This is in line with the Convention on International Civil Aviation which defines “state aircraft” as aircraft used in military, customs and police services.
If, for example, Denel Dynamics wants to put its Seeker 400 UAV into the air during the September exhibition at AFB Waterkloof the company will have to obtain permission from and have flight validation approved by the man listed as airshow director on the official AAD website, Colonel Helgard Brink. The same would apply to Boeing for its ScanEagle and Paramount with its range of UAVs including the Vulture, Kiwit and Sentinel-LE.
Gwebu said CAA was in the process of developing guidance material for interim operations of UAVs.
“This will form the basis for the development of performance based regulations for full integration of UAVs into civil airspace.”
Civil aviation legislation in South Africa currently does not provide for certification, registration and operations of UAVs in civilian airspace, something CAA chief executive Poppy Khoza recognises.
“We are cognisant of the urgent need and demand for UAV usage for commercial and many other reasons. CAA has allotted the necessary resources to ensure speedy integration of drones into South African airspace,” she said.
Her comments follow what the CAA has termed the “illegal flying” of UAVs in South Africa.
“CAA will clamp down on this activity in the light of recent reports purporting that individuals and/or organisations are either already operating or intending to operate UAV’s in local civil airspace,” Khoza said.
Until regulations are in place, anyone caught operating a UAV could be fined up to R50 000, face up to 19 years behind bars or both.
At the start of the Oscar Pistorius trial in the North Gauteng High Court last month, a UAV was used to capture images of crowds outside the court building in the Pretoria CBD. Earlier this week a Gauteng-based radio station indicated it was planning to utilise UAVs to provide a traffic information service to listeners.
These, it would appear, are the immediate target of CAA with at some stage in future attention given to the use of UAV’s to film sports events such as motor racing.