Licensed drone pilots ensure safer skies

Official training is recommended for recreational drone users.

Official training is recommended for recreational drone users.

Insurance companies may be unwilling to fully insure owners of remotely-piloted aircraft systems if they do not possess a certified operation licence – even if the drone is to be used recreationally.

Regulations put in place in 2015 by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) require all drones used commercially to be operated by a licensed drone operator. To obtain the licence, operators have to go through official training, display competence and pass a health exam. It costs around R12 000.

Recreational operators are under no legal obligation to undergo training, only asked to abide by the legal restrictions.

However, Johannes du Plessis, legal advisor at Risk Benefit Solutions, argues hobbyists should also undergo the training to receive full cover.

Du Plessis says the risks for untrained recreational users are much higher than they might comprehend.

"A drone that loses control and veers onto a motorway, for example, has the potential to cause not only damage to property including motor vehicles, but also injuries and deaths."

Last year, a drone crashed into Eskom's Koeberg Power Station in contravention of the nuclear safety regulations. There have also been various reports worldwide of drones colliding with aircraft.

"Training may be expensive compared to the cost of a toy drone, but the risk of not being insured far outweighs any cost implications to a recreational drone pilot," says Du Plessis.

He notes insurers are only prepared to offer limited cover to recreational drone users, if untrained.

Last week, it was reported SACAA had seen a significant increase in the number of registered drones over the past year. Over the 12-month period, registered drones went from 216 in January 2016, to 465 in January 2017. The number of pilot licences issued also increased from 33 to 368 in the same period.

Simon Segwabe, aviation safety operations exec at SACAA, says the authority's main concern is the increasing number of unregistered and unapproved drone operations that are taking place. He says the authority estimates for every registered and licensed drone taking to the skies, there are two or three more doing so illegally.

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