What to know before flying your hobby drone in South Africa

18 December 2017

Originally published on iafrica.com on 5 September 2017.

These days a wedding video isn’t complete without an aerial shot of the venue, but drone flying isn’t reserved for commercial purposes. The average joe can roam the skies with drones like the DJI Spark, but what are the rules?

Regulations apply to private use

If you’re only interested in flying your hobby 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.

What?

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.

When?

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 fly up to the height of the highest object in 300m of the drone, and not more than 120 m (400 ft) above the ground.

Where?

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. Safari-goers may not operate their drones within 457 m above the ground in any of South Africa’s National Parks. 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.

The information provided in this article is based on our understanding of the SACAA RPAS regulations and its purpose is to provide helpful information on the subject discussed. (The article is not meant to be used without first familiarising yourself with the SACAA Regulations for non-commercial RPA use). Always fact check this interpretation with the SACAA RPA drone regulations to avoid ambiguity, bearing in mind that these regulations are still quite fluid. 

The publisher and the author are not responsible for any loss, damage or any legal action taken against the drone operator as a result of the misinterpretation of the regulations by either the drone operator or Outdoorphoto. References are provided for information purposes only.

Anything amiss? Let us know so that we can keep our information accurate and current.

About the Author:

info@outdoorphoto.co.za
The Outdoorphoto Blog strives to inform, educate, engage and inspire South African creatives - it's all about the photographic lifestyle.

3 Comments

  1. Michelle 23 February 2018 at 10:29 am - Reply

    What can we do if our neighbors are flying over our property and taking photos?

    • Ollie Larsen 28 March 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

      Michelle > Look, you can report them, but I wouldn’t worry about it to be honest. Most drone cameras are absolutely useless compared to a silent DSLR at ground level.
      In order to effectively “spy” on you, they would need to be literally RIGHT outside your bedroom window or JUST above your head.

      Better to check that they’ve not got a normal camera aimed at you from next door. Much more powerful and likely to be intruding on your privacy that way.

    • Daniel 30 May 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Confront them and if they do it again, the drone is over your property, so do what you want to.

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