Regulations apply to private use
If you’re only interested in flying your drone for private use (no commercial interest, outcome or gain), you won’t need to register the drone or obtain any licences, but the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Part 101 Regulations still apply.
You’re allowed to fly a drone that weighs up to 7 kg, which shouldn’t be a problem as hobby drones only weigh up to about 1.5 kg. Unsurprisingly, the drone may not carry any passengers or transport cargo.
Apart from not being allowed to fly at night, be sure to keep an eye out for bad weather such as strong winds, rain or fog – let your common sense guide you. And in case you were wondering, you’re not allowed to drink and drive/fly.
How high and how far?
You may fly in Restricted Visual Line of Sight (R-VLOS) only, which means that you must always maintain a direct line of sight with the drone.
Max distance: The drone may fly up to 500 m away from the pilot whilst maintaining a direct line of sight.
Max height: The drone may not fly higher than 120 m (400 ft) from the ground and it must stay below the height of the highest obstacle within 300 m of the pilot.
This is where it gets tricky. In a nutshell, you must keep more than 50 m from people, roads and buildings, and you need explicit permission to fly over other people’s properties.
You must steer clear from (and within 10 km from) airports/aerodromes and respect other people’s privacy by not flying into or over their properties without permission – note that it may constitute trespassing.
There are many more No Fly Zones (NFZ) in South Africa that you need to take note of. Do yourself a favour and look these up – it’s better being safe than sorry. The NFZs include prisons, police stations, crime scenes, courts of law, nuclear power plants, and National Key Points or Strategic installations like the Union Buildings Presidency in Pretoria.
Other prohibited air spaces include restricted (FAR), danger (FAD) and environmental (FAP) areas such as SAN Parks which, in terms of the NEMA Protected Areas Act, state that “it is illegal to fly below 2500 ft above the highest point of any national park, with any aircraft/drone without the express permission of the Management Authority of the particular National Park”. This is because some sightseers use their drones to disturb or chase wild animals. Only drones used for wildlife conservation and research purposes are allowed, subject to special permission.
And no matter how good it looks, remember that you cannot fly your drone in a swarm like Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl drone show. Any hobby drone pilot who fails to adhere to these regulations may receive a 10-year prison sentence or a fine of up to R50 000, or both.