The South African Civil Aviation Authority has finally released the regulations on Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), commonly known as the drone regulations. These regulations are coming into force on 1 July 2015. Are the Regulations practical and will they be effective? Regulation is necessary in this rapidly evolving industry, but the road ahead for drones will be paved with practical challenges.

How crucial are the drone regulations to SA?

It is extremely crucial and necessary. The local industry has grown rapidly within recent years and drones have been on the market for some time now. It is crucial also from a safety and security perspective. It is important for those using a RPA to know how to do so correctly and within the law.

What sort of challenges do these drone regulations face?

The biggest challenge the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has now is implementation. The regulations come into effect on 1 July. That gives them less than a month to:

  • have structures in place to properly administer the registration of drones,
  • create training schools and testing centres for pilots, and
  • also train staff on how to properly administer the regulations.

That is not a lot of time to have all these things running and functional at some level. It is a big ask for anyone. So the biggest concern is how the regulations will be rolled out and if the SACAA has given itself enough time to do this properly.

With some drones having video-recording capabilities, how does this impact on privacy in light of the POPI Act?

The regulations do not mention privacy outright, but in light of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) “recording” is included in the definition of “processing” in section 1 of the Act. So when you are using a drone that processes personal information by recording it, you would have to comply with the conditions in POPI. For example:

  • You need to determine who the responsible party is, as this is the person who has to comply with POPI. The responsible party could be the owner or even the pilot of the RPA.
  • Two other important conditions POPI imposes are that the responsible party must specify the purpose for processing the personal information, and must limit further processing (section 13 and 15 of POPI).

The drone regulations state that a holder of a RPAS operators certificate (ROC) must develop an operations manual. This manual must contain all the information needed to show how a drone operator will comply with the regulations and how safety standards will be applied and achieved. It has to set out the type and scope of operations, and how the RPAS, as well as its operation, will be safely conducted. Crucially, the manual should “reflect all operational and legislative activities and obligations which the ROC holder is obliged to meet…”. This is parallel to the sections of POPI that require you to specify the purpose for processing and limit further processing. So in the operator’s manual, you would have to specify your exact purpose for using the drone and limit your use to just that purpose. The operator’s manual would confine your operations to only the things you have detailed in it, and this will ensure that you comply with the drone regulations and POPI.

Further comments

Every drone operator or even anyone who is considering purchasing a drone should go through the regulations. There is only a short length of time until the regulation are enforceable.

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