November 24, 2017

South Africa’s first commercial drone milestone


Don’t be surprised if you see a drone flying above a mining area in South Africa. This will be not under the auspices of foreign forces on a reconnaissance mission, but South Africa’s first commercial drone doing its errands, thanks to South African Civil Aviation Authority’s (SACAA) decision to issue a licence to Public Display Technologies’ (PDT).

Compared with other countries, South Africa has been slow to embrace the usage of drones in different sectors, mainly due to legal matters, but history has since been made nonetheless.

A statement from Public Display Technologies’ (PDT) RocketMine Division says the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has approved the company as the first commercial Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) operator for the South African mining sector.

Although the licence is specific to mining, the company says its products are perfect for a variety of industries, including agriculture, engineering, media and entertainment.

Chris Clark, RocketMine Division Head, explains: “Using drones to conduct operational duties has produced high quality data in a fraction of the time and at a percentage of the costs. In the mining industry in particular, most high risk tasks conducted by our drones have eliminated the safety risk for mining staff,”

Clark sees drones revolutionising the way in which many key industries in South Africa conduct their business. South Africa could usher Africa into a new era, he believes.

Some would-be operators expressed reservations at the SACAA’s decision to regulate the commercial usage of RPAS from July 1, 2015, citing that it will discourage investment in the field. However, the then, SACAA director, Poppy Khoza, said the need for regulation was prompted by a huge demand for the commercial use of drones in South Africa and subsequent safety concerns; the strict SACAA application process ensures that drone operators meet all standards for safety, security and privacy.

For PDT to secure the licence it has been one onerous process, but, in no doubt, worth the wait and patience, as Albert Msithini, Manager of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the SACAA, acknowledges.

“PDT was among the first organisations that regularly engaged the SACAA with regards to development and promulgation of the RPAS regulations. The journey involved various robust debates over the development phase, which ended in February of 2015 when the draft regulations were submitted to the Minister of Transport for approval. The regulations were approved and became effective on 1 July 2015,” Msithini comments.

It is hoped that PDT, as the pioneer, will encourage other players to enter the commercial drone operations field, which has more potential for growth in South Africa in fields such as agriculture, construction, forestry, insurance, just to single out a few.

Information credits: This article has been adapted for African Mining Brief online from a press release from RocketMine


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