Regulations and drone use in Southern Africa
Morning one and all.
We are in southern Africa today, where an official with the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) had remined the country’s citizens that the CAAZ is the ultimate authority on all things drone technology and anybody looking to be involved with drones has to ensure compliance with the rules.
CAAZ director general Dr Elijah Chingosho said this last Friday, adding that the regulation of the ownership and usage of unmanned aerial vehicles is governed by the Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) Regulations published in Statutory Instrument 271 of 2018.
“CAAZ provides advice to the public and industry on how to fly drones safely and reduce any risk to aviation,” Chingosho said. “CAAZ approval is required for ownership, important and operation of drones. Only licenced personnel shall conduct drone operations.
“Whilst the potential for innovative use of drone technology is supported, CAAZ ensures the effective and proportionate management of any risks.”
Chingosho made the remarks at a time when the national regulator has weaned itself of airport operation responsibilities by making the Airports Authority of Zimbabwe a standalone entity. He said this would give the CAAZ time to concentrate on its regulatory responsibilities; shedding the parts of business where it was also a player it a game it was supposed to referee.
Private drone use is becoming popular in Zimbabwe, especially when applied as a media implement at gatherings like weddings and parties. Content creators are also purchasing the small tin birds to create quality aerial images and videos.
However, most of these private drone owners have not registered their drones; and neither are they trained RPAS pilots. Looked at from this point of view, one can understand why the regulator is worried about the unauthorised drone use in the country.
One only requires a letter of approval from the regulator and does not need to register one’s drone with the regulator if the drone has a weight of 2kg or less (anything above 2kg up to 150kg will need a certificate of registration); but there are no exemptions for drone pilots – every aspiring pilot has to go through testing to earn the right to pilot a drone.
Such training and testing costs money though, which seen many circumventing the rules and getting their drones in the air illegally.
Drone regulations have often been cited the as the albatross around the neck of the drone industry growing in Southern Africa, as stakeholders feel the laws are restrictive to new players entering the field. In South Africa, which was one of the first countries in the world to promulgate drone laws, growth has stagnated since the heady days of 2015, mainly because the regulator has not made it easy for applications hoping to acquire operators’ certificates for their commercial operations.
Until late in 2020, when the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) issued a glut of ROCs in December (actually it was only three but that had never happened before), the average it took for an operator to get a certificate in South Africa was three years.
Even then, the country has issued out only 87 operating certificates to date.
According to Sam Twala, founder of drone services company Ntsu Aviation, which helps bridge the gap between the regulator and companies hoping to get drone operating certificates, there is no need for this attrition between the regulator and the industry.
“We have to start from the beginning and get the basics right,” Twala told a local newspaper. “That means reviewing the current regulations and, for the CAA, to optimise internal approval processes. The number one pain is to deal with over and under regulation.
“Second, as a country, we need to make headway as far as airspace integration is concerned. The access to airspace for drones remains a serious challenge. The other important role player in the equation is spectrum allocation for drones.”
Compared to other countries in the region, the use of drones in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe’s public entities has been in the doldrums. They do have a smidgeon of drone use by government-related entities here and there – like the Western Cape’s Emergency Services Department in South Africa and the Civil Protection Unit in Zimbabwe.
But the really big projects – the ones that have seen the respective regional governments in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia committing to drone delivery pilots with medical drone logistics companies like Avy, Swoop Aero and Wingcopter – those have sadly passed these countries by.
And as long as the drones are not seen to be embraced publicly by government through integration into the airspace and adoption on the technology into public operations like policing and medical delivery, there is little hope for private players.
“South African is lagging behind in the public sector,” Twala says. “The adoption of drone technology in the public sector in other countries such as the US, UK, Europe and China is at a very advanced level for public service.
“Among others, this would include government departments such as public order policing, search-and-rescue services, and medical deliveries.”