South African drone spraying start-up gets special licence

Maybe the 20s will be the decade of the drone after all, at least in South Africa.

Only a few months after granting the Western Cape government the legal rights to fly drones into emergency situations in the province, the country’s aviation regulator, the South African Civil Aviation Authority has gone on and issued another special operator’s licence; this time to drone-based precision agricultural solutions provider Integrated Aerial Systems, which received its commercial crop spraying drone operator’s licence recently.

Since 2016 when applications were opened, commercial drone operators have been having a hard time trying to meet the authority’s stringent requirements for an operator’s licence. Including IAS’s new issue, SACAA have issued only 66 operator’s licences in the last five years.

Little wonder that relations between the regulator and operators over the years have been frosty.

As for a crop spraying licence, IAS are only the second drone company to obtain one in the country, following on the footsteps of Durban-based DCG (formerly DC Geomatics), which had its licence in 2019.

At the time, SACAA was full of praise for the DCG, expressing hope that their new licence would inspire other applicants to follow suit.

“The SACAA remains very keen to integrate these aircraft into the existing manned-aviation sector and civil airspace, which is relatively safe, secure, and highly organised,” Kabelo Ledwaba, SACAA spokesperson said then. “We acknowledge that RPAS together with the Fourth Industrial Revolution will continue to be an integral part of the air transport network. Hence, we continue to work hand in hand in local and international bodies to integrate RPAS into the traditional manned-aviation airspace. We hope that this achievement by DCG sparks an interest in this new technology by other companies and individuals to enter this fairly new aviation industry.”

Ready when you are: IAS cannot wait to have these babies flying.

Nobody knew it would take them two years to issue another crop spraying licence. But relations between the two entities have been turning for the better in the last two years, and it is perhaps a show of good faith that the regulator is now granting these licences.

But whatever pang of goodwill has attacked SACAA of late, IAS are just excited to be working with a licence now.

“We are very proud to announce that after a long and challenging approval process, IAS has been granted their commercial drone crop spraying license,” the company said in a post on social media. “We are the first Western Cape based drone crop spraying operator and the second company in South Africa to provide a legal drone crop spraying platform. We have purchased eight DJI AGRAS T16 drones, which are now fully licensed and ready to begin spraying operations in Limpopo, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.”

The Cape Town-based start-up made the drone headlines last August when they were the only drone enterprise to qualify for the finals of Generation Africa’s 2020 GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize. IAS use drones for precision crop spraying and multi-spectral surveys to give farmers actionable data about under-performing crops. They leverage the latest developments in drone hardware and software applications to deliver to their clients accurate and actionable data in a user-friendly manner.

“Crop Spraying with drones is set to change farming in South Africa due to the superior quality of spraying drones are able to achieve compared to manned aerial spraying especially for crops such as sugarcane,” the company said. “This is because the drones are able to get within 1,5metres-3metres above the crop and deliver an even application to almost 100 percent of the field. The drones are equipped with GPS navigation, fly on autonomous routes and fitted with special radar which actively maps out the terrain to ensure the aircraft maintains constant height while avoiding any obstacles. It’s an exciting time for the agricultural sector as these innovative technologies are making their way into mainstream farming improving agricultural output while being environmentally sustainable.”

We too are excited for you, IAS. Congratulations on joining the for-now exclusive club of licenced operators in South Africa. And for your new fleet.

1 Comment

  • Ken Treloar Reply

    28 January 2021 at 20:06

    Congrats to IAS – exciting times!
    Would be especially interesting to see the drones utilising Aerobotics’ plant health zone maps (Shapefiles) for precision spraying over orchards and fields.

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