Women and Drones Fireside Chat with Kim James

If you do not know what Women and Drones Africa Chapter’s Fireside Chats are about; they are the weekly orgy of female drone professionals and enthusiasts of drone technology on the continent.

We say orgy, because these virtual meetings are fun. Believe us; we have been to a few of them, even featured on one. We were hooked. The ladies choose a guest whose journey they feel can inspire their own aspiration for the industry, and pick his/her brain on the aspects of the drone industry he/she has experience in.

Although the gathering is predominantly female, the guest list can also feature men; and if you are a man and still wish to offer your support, you are allowed to hang around too.

Provided you bring the firewood for the fire chats, and a keg of beer to last however long it will take for that week’s chat.

Anyway, Women and Drones have been recording these fireside chats, and they have now started appearing online. This particular chat featured Kim James, the director of South African drone services company UAV Aerial Works, who shares her experiences with South Africa’s drone regulations.

It is a hugely important topic. Relations between the drone industry and the aviation regulator – the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) – have not always been at their best, with industry players accusing the national regulator of dragging its feet in opening up the playing field so the drone economy can soar.

As Victor Radebe, the founder of Mzansi Aero Technologies and one the the respected drone technology voices in South Africa put it; “Imagine Henry Ford attempting to bring the Model T to an average American and no one was taking the responsibility to build roads and developing the regulations to manage traffic.

“Well in most countries this is exactly what drone delivery start-ups are doing. Most air navigation services providers (ANSPs) and CAAs are saying it’s not their responsibility to develop an unmanned traffic management (UTM) ecosystem. In fact, they want to throw the book at these drone delivery initiatives.

“Fortunately, for us there are a few bright sparks at ATNS and to a lesser extent at SACAA, who are beginning to think along these lines. However, they’d better put those those thoughts into action otherwise the RWANDA story will keep propping up in technology and aviation circles. This is the Decade of the Drone and our strategic posture has to be that of “shaping the future” of African drone industry and not “reserving our right to play” in this air space.”

South Africa had issued only around 64 Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Operator’s Certificate (ROC) in the five years that drone technology has gathered pace since 2015. But the frosty nature that characterised the industry and SACAA has been thawing of late, which could explain why the regulator issued three more ROCs in quick succession at the end of last year.

In this episode of the fireside, Kim explained how the Part 101 drone rules work in South Africa, the process of acquiring operating certificates and what is expected of the industry by SACAA.

It is an eye-opener for anyone hoping to operate drone in the country, and we hope you enjoy the exchanges.


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