Globally the drone business is proving to be one of the most explosive new growth industries in recent years, with South Africa a relatively late bloomer.
With only a handful of training providers in the country, and thousands of uncertified and, therefore, illegal pilots, the industry is in urgent need of upskilling and compliance.
A Cape Town company, UAV Industries, announced it is the first drone operator in Africa to be certified to train pilots and operate drones, receiving their Remote Operating Certificate from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).
Already a leading training provider, the announcement means they are now the only company on the continent to provide insured and legal flights using their pilots for various industries in South Africa - film, agriculture, utilities, insurance and property, among others. Having trained over 120 pilots this year, they will immediately bring economies of scale and accessibility to the sector with trained pilots in major provinces.
The announcement is well-timed. As the local industry booms, dangers exist and collisions will rapidly become an inevitable part of operating - the greatest concern is South African companies may not realise they are employing non-certified drone pilots which put companies, property and potentially lives, at significant risk.
Braam Botha, UAV Industries chief operating officer, explained” "It's about operational control in airspace. This is shared by all sorts of aircraft but when you're in an urban area you might be flying over people or over a road or buildings and there are risks attached.
“In addition you are not allowed to fly within 50m of a public road, person or property you do not have permission from - including parks and beaches - and unless you have gone through the training, have been approved by the SACAA, and have a Remote Operators' Certificate, plus other requirements, you may not fly. It's a legal necessity and as far as we've experienced, it's the only way you can be insured, because there are numerous eventualities such as flying into a property, a vehicle, or a person."
Botha added: "For hobbyists, that's not to say you can't fly. The SA Model Aircraft Association (SAMAA) has a number of SAMAA approved fields for members and provides insurance for model flyers, but you can't make an income on the back of a SAMAA membership.
“To make a living, or work within a corporate environment, the legal process requires two licences - an Air Service Licence from the Department of Transport and the Remote Operating Certificate (ROC) from SACAA. On top of that your drone needs to be registered and approved by SACAA and the individual needs a drone pilots' licence. You'll need insurance for third party risk - a drone crashing into a car as an example - but for the most part you can't get this unless you're a legal operator.
“I often compare it to a courier company not being insured or insuring its drivers? Businesses should know this and need to ask the questions of the pilot - are you insured, and are you and your drone legal?"