What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?

Every now and then, you encounter some new gadget that really makes you feel like you’re living in the future. For many people, drones truly encapsulate this feeling. Whether they’re whizzing through the air getting innovative camera angles or carrying packages around a worksite, it seems like this new technology is here to stay. But what does the law say? Do you need a license to operate drones? What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?

Yes, drones are legal in South Africa, you’ve probably seen them for sale at many shops around the country so that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

That said, there are multiple rules and restrictions concerning their use, so don’t go flying them around without reading up on the do’s and don’ts first.

What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?
What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?

Do I need a Drone License in South Africa?

Well, it depends on what you’re using it for. If you’re flying your drone as a hobby or for personal use, you usually won’t need to apply for a licence. If however, you intend to use your drone for commercial gains, such as when filming a movie, you will need to fulfil a whole host of prerequisites, and, most notably, you’ll have to get a Remote Pilot’s Licence (RPL).

What are the Regulations for Drones in South Africa?

Special drones and special operations with said drones may require authorisation from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

For most forms of personal use, however, you’ll just need to keep the following guidelines in mind

  • Do not fly near manned aircraft
  • Do not fly 10kms or closer to an aerodrome.
  • Your drone must not weigh more than 7kgs (most recreational drones don’t come anywhere near this weight).
  • Do not fly 50m or closer to any person or groups of people (such as at concerts or sporting events).
  • Do not fly 50m or closer to private property if you have not received permission from the owner of the property.
  • Do not fly 50m or closer to buildings and/or roads.
  • Maintain visual contact with your drone at all times.
  • Only fly during the day when the weather is clear.
What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?
What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?

You can also be sure that each province will begin to institute specific bylaws as time goes on (if they haven’t done it already). That said, certain ‘sensitive’ areas will normally be off-limits by default. These include places like crime scenes, prisons, power plants, etc.

How Far Can Drones Fly away from the Operator?

As mentioned, in most cases, drones can only be flown while the pilot is able to maintain visual contact. Now, before you duct tape a pair of binoculars to your face, this is strictly limited to ‘unaided visual contact’. That said, further limitations state that drones must not be flown more than 500 metres away from the pilot. Once again, certain licenses and permissions can be obtained to affect this limitation.

How High can you Fly a Drone?

How High can you Fly a Drone?
How High can you Fly a Drone?

Without a licence or special permission, drones can not be flown higher than 120m from the ground and below the height of the highest obstacle within 300m.

Can you Fly a Drone at a National Park in South Africa?

Beyond the aforementioned ‘sensitive areas’, there are a couple of no-fly zones throughout the country that drone operators should pay attention to. National parks are included in this category and, as such, it is illegal to operate a drone within the bounds of a national park.

Notably, Table Mountain and the Kruger National Park share this regulation.

How do you Get a Drone License?

Before applying for a Remote Pilot License (RPL), you’ll first need to complete the relevant training at an Approved Training Organization (ATO).

Once you have your training, you can apply for your license via the SACAA. To apply, you’ll need the following

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold current medical assessments
  • Pass the RPL practical assessment
  • Pass Radiotelephony assessment
  • Obtain English Language Proficiency (ELP) level 4 or higher

Commercial operators will also require a RPAS Operator Certificate (ROC) as well as a certificate of registration for the drone/s.

You should be warned that these procedures can be quite pricey with each certificate and licence having separate costs. Additionally, training from ATO’s can end up costing thousands, or even tens of thousands of rands depending on the extent of the program.

Can you Fly a drone anywhere?
Can you Fly a drone anywhere?

What are the Different Types of Remote Pilot Licence?

RPL’s are usually divided between categories, classes and ratings.

Categories – Refer to the type of device being used by the pilot, namely – 

  • RPL(A) – Aeroplane
  • RPL(H) – Helicopter
  • RPL(MR) – Multi-Rotor

Classes – Refer to the weight class of the drone, for instance –

  • 1A – Less than 1.5kgs
  • 1B – Less than 7kgs
  • 1C – Less than 20kgs
  • 2A – Less than 20kgs

Ratings – Refer to where you can operate your drone (in terms of visual contact), for example –

  • VLOS – Visual line-of-sight
  • E-VLOS – Extended visual line-of-sight
  • B-VLOS – Beyond visual line-of-sight

How Long Does a Drone Licence Last?

An RPL is valid for a period of 2 years before it must be renewed.

Can you be Arrested for Operating a Drone illegally?

Aviation regulations have made provisions for both fining and arresting citizens for illegal drone use. That said, any penalties you incur will most likely be relative to the crime in question. Flying a drone over your neighbour’s house without their permission would generally result in a warning or a light fine. By contrast, flying your drone through an airport could easily land you in a jail cell.

How do you Prevent Drones from Flying over your House?

How do you Prevent Drones from Flying over your House?
How do you Prevent Drones from Flying over your House?

There are few things that could put you off sunbathing or getting undressed quite as quickly as a drone with a potentially powerful camera hovering nearby. But what happens if you’re put into such a situation? Can you knock down the drone? Are they even trespassing?

Well, as noted with the drone guidelines, flying a drone within 50 meters of a person without a permit or flying over the personal property of a person without their express permission is illegal, as such, you are within your rights to call the police if caught in a similar scenario.

Either calling the police or lodging a complaint with the SACAA is recommended rather than trying to destroy or ground the drone yourself. Legal proceedings in these sorts of situations can be kind of sticky so you don’t want to do anything that might result in you being charged for damages.

Definitely do not shoot at the drone as discharging a firearm in a built up area is extremely dangerous and illegal.

In Conclusion – What are the Laws and Regulations regarding Drones in South Africa?

Drones themselves are legal in South Africa, however, they come with many restrictions with regard to their operation. Drones that are used for personal/private use are legal to fly even without a Remote Pilot’s Licence (RPL).

What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?
What is the Law on Drones in South Africa?

Operators who plan to use their drone for professional or commercial uses will need to apply for an RPL and will need to obtain an RCO and drone certification. To obtain the relevant license, you will need –

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold current medical assessments
  • Pass the RPL practical assessment
  • Pass Radiotelephony assessment
  • Obtain English Language Proficiency (ELP) level 4 or higher

General rules to be followed when operating a drone include things like, not flying within 50m of a person or within 50m of private property without permission, not flying near manned aircraft or aerodromes and ensuring that you maintain visual contact with your drone at all times, to name a few.

Special permissions may be granted to licence holders based on things like their licence ratings which may enable them to fly their drones past their field of vision or during the night.

Various locations and events are considered prohibited to drones, these include areas like national parks, crime scenes, courtrooms and others.

Breaking the law with regard to drones can lead to either fines, arrests, or both. People found guilty of endangering manned aircraft through the use of drones can expect particularly severe punishments.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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