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CUAASA and Department of Economic Development host Drone Policy Dialogue

On Friday 15th March, CUAASA and the Department of Economic Development hosted the first of its kind Drone Policy Dialogue at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria.

CUAASA was represented by ExCo members Sean Reitz, Victor Radebe, Kevin Storie, Dean Polley and Nico van Rooyen.

Deputy Minister Madala Masuku with Mashupjwe Ntjane (far left) from the Department of Transport, Sean Reitz (left) from the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA), and Victor Radebe (right), also from CUAASA

Background and context

The extent of economic benefits from drones usage in South Africa will be determined by the pace of technology adoption and the alignment of the measures for sector support. Industry rules are a critical enabler and South Africa has a real opportunity to join other industry leaders and first adopters.

Following the analysis of the drones industry value-chain, which formed part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution readiness assessment, EDD hosted a Policy Dialogue on the drones industry. This was in collaboration with the DoT, Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA) and other government departments/agencies.

More than 70 delegates attended the event


The programme consisted of three presentations by the Air Transport Navigation Systems (ATNS), CUAASA and the Department of Transport, and a key note address by the Deputy Minister Masuku. During programme breaks a few videos were screened showcasing the pilot training programme and a few use cases of drones in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent.

Key stakeholders and participants

The session was attended by most Departments in the Economic Cluster, the executives of CUAASA, members of CUAASA, start-up companies, metropolitan municipalities, provincial departments of economic development and a number of state agencies.

Expected outcomes

The Drone Policy Dialogue was expected to outline developments in the South African drone industry and offer a platform for industry and government to engage on industry trends, policy and regulatory issues.

An action plan was envisaged to be developed for implementation and monitoring on the following discussion outcomes:

  • Integration of drones into smart cities and the various uses of drones in that environment;

  • Job opportunities, training & skills, Research & Development and innovation in the industry;

  • Analysis of the industry’s regulatory framework, drone registration and intelligent verification and accreditation of drones;

  • Measures to enable the adoption of the drone technologies for service delivery improvement by government;

  • Support mechanisms for small enterprises in the industry (especially non-aviators); and

  • Strategies to curb illegal operations and to improve enforcement of regulations.

Presentation Summaries

Department of Transport (DoT)

  • The DoT issued Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Regulations in July 2015 and to date they have received 148 applications in total. DoT and SACAA have licensed 38 operators (ROC holders) and 5 Approved Training Organisations.

  • Safety, security and reliability are the key considerations for issuing Air Service Licences (ASLs) to prospective applicants in the RPAS industry.

  • At present, there is limited coordination in the sector but platforms such as the policy dialogue are a good start for improving coordination.

  • Technological evolution is driving the pace of regulatory change. The DoT and SACAA are aware that they need to be more agile to keep pace with the fast- changing aviation industry and to ensure

  • that the regulations of the day remain relevant.

  • As a way forward DoT proposed the following:

  • A joint awareness programmes on RPAS.

  • Collaboration to be formed among the industry, regulatory authorities, and relevant government departments academia and potential users such as Eskom, Transnet, Sasol, etc. in dealing with all matters concerning development of the industry.

  • Involvement of the general public, law enforcement agencies, and the prosecution authority in ensuring the safe use of drones.

  • Balancing and maintaining privacy from the use of RPAS needs to be attended to.

Zeph Nhleko - Deputy Director General

Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS)

  • Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) is a system designed to keep drones and other types of aircraft from colliding.

  • The increase in RPAS and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has given rise to the development of UTM traffic management systems.

  • ATNS has adequate infrastructure to handle UAVs, however, the transmission systems on drones need to be enabled to communicate with the UTM systems.

  • It is important that UTM systems should not be developed in isolation from current air traffic management (ATM) systems.

  • Although there have been disruptions with the introduction of the UTM system, they have been managed and largely kept to a minimum.

  • Limited aviation spectrum, cyber-security and terrorism are some of the challenges that have emanated from the usage of drones.

ATNS believes that :

  • UTM has many benefits and it is dependent on collaboration;

  • Unmanned Air Mobility is the future of the country;

  • The industry should not be over-regulated;

  • Flexible solutions are required and the regulations do not need to be a one-size-fits-all; and

  • There is need to educate the citizenry and communicate clearly, frequently and widely to ensure safety, security and reliability in usage of drones.

Hennie Marais - Chief Air Traffic Services

Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA)

  • The country needs a growth stimulus and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as the RPAS industry, offer opportunities for economic growth.

  • Drones can increase both employment and output as has been seen in countries such as France and Germany.

  • Opportunities for usage of drones are in many industries such as safety & security, surveys, mining, agriculture, transport and health.

  • In drafting regulations, safety and security should be key considerations however; they should be balanced with the economic benefits of a growing industry.

  • A drone registration and accreditation processes akin to RICA is important and this should be done at the point of purchase or import so that the regulators can keep track of all drones in the country for safety and security reasons. The industry has offered to assist regulators in this regard.

Sean Reitz - Vice President CUAASA

Address by the Deputy Minister

  • Attention should be put on the benefits of drones to society whilst paying attention to safety and smart regulation.

  • Identify opportunities in the drones value-chain and explore opportunities that exist in the neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia for South Africa.

  • There is a real chance of manufacturing components and innovation.

  • Identify sectors where drones can make a meaningful impact in South Africa, such as health, education and water infrastructure maintenance (as done in Netherlands).

  • Begin implementation of the identified interventions as soon as possible.

Deputy Minister of Economic Development - Madala Masuku


Breakout Session 1: How to integrate drones into smart cities?

Drones are seen as a tool for service delivery at local government level. Aspiring global smart cities are fast adopting drone technology as a tool for service delivery, especially in areas such public policing, crowd control, surveying, mapping, town planning, search and rescue, etc. However, one of the biggest challenges is curbing the illegal use of drones particularly in controlled air-spaces such as airports and other national key points. The objective of this breakout session was to deliberate on how South African municipalities (metros) can integrate use of drones whilst curbing illegal use and also play a role in protecting controlled air-spaces.

Victor Radebe - ExCo Member CUAASA

Key questions:

  • How to educate the public on the use of drones, particularly the hobbyists?

  • Are municipal police services equipped to handle complaints on illegal use of drones and do they have formal regulations in the form of by-laws to deal with drone abuse?

  • How can municipal policing assist in the enforcement of drone regulations?

  • Should there be national standards for use of drones across all municipalities?

Main challenges:

  • Violation of controlled and uncontrolled airspaces by the general public and unlicensed operators poses a security risk.

  • Invasion of privacy and nuisance as a result of illegal operations.

  • Non-compliance with RPAS regulations.


  • A new layer of mobility in the cities through Uber Air and Amazon delivery programmes etc. is seen as an opportunity.

  • Opportunities to stimulate localisation of manufacturing and innovation – there is a need to develop a supplier database of local producers.

  • Opportunities for rural development through smart villages – postal services can be done easily as competition on the aviation space is low in rural areas.

  • Data analytics is skill for the future made possible by drone technology.


  • Implementation of a pilot programme on smart city integration at one of the three airports at Cape Town, eKurhuleni and eThekwini municipalities, involving universities on the pilot project.

  • Develop a smart villages integration programme and explore how drone technology can be applied in service delivery operations in rural areas. Examples include delivery of medical samples, blood, vaccinations, postal services, etc.

  • In order to control drones and combat illegal operations, there is a need to bring together various stakeholders such as airports, ATNS, SAPS, Municipal Police, SARS, suppliers, the drone industry, etc.


Breakout session 2: Job Opportunities, Training, R & D and Innovation

South Africa was one of very few countries to develop a set of drone regulations in 2015. According to research conducted by CUAASA, the drone industry is expected to create no less than 40,000 job opportunities in the next decade.

Key questions

  • How can South Africa create global competitiveness in certain key aspects of this industry? How can the science, technology and innovation system in the country support growth of this industry?

  • In which sectors can drone technology be used to build strong capabilities? mining, agriculture, defence, film-making, security, etc.?

  • What roles can our research institutions and higher education institutions (HEIs) play in growing this industry?

Main challenges

  • Limited capacity at the SACAA in terms of numbers of staff and the relevant skills to adjudicate and carry out the necessary inspections has impacted the industry adversely. SACAA has been unable to efficiently implement the existing regulations for RPAS.

  • Awareness (by the general public and law enforcement) of the potential uses and dangers of misuse of the drone technology is very low.

  • The existing format of training is currently inadequate as it only equips the trainee with piloting skills which are not sufficient for the workplace - which often requires additional skills such as survey, repair and maintenance, operations safety skills, etc.

  • The ROC requirements do not cater /allow for SMEs or one-man operations.


  • Opportunities exist for local manufacturers of larger aircraft which faces lower competition from smaller DJI-manufactured drones. Technology and innovation for the larger drones exists in South Africa – expansion of existing R&D programmes is required.

  • There are opportunities for transformation in the industry which is relatively new and has no legacy issues.

  • There are opportunities to develop SMEs in the industry; the current regulations are an impediment for small operators who cannot meet the ASL and ROC licensing requirements.


  • Amendment of regulations to allow for ROC-lite for SMEs and one-man operations. A target of approval of applications within three months at a cost below R50 000.00 would grow the industry.

  • Incentives for the industry need to be developed, for training (internships), innovation and manufacturing of drones. This could be along the same lines as the automotive incentives programme administered by the DTI to ensure competitiveness and growth of the sector.

  • The SACAA and DoT should create a dedicated unit to focus on licensing of UAVs and the related enforcement and inspections.

  • SACAA and DoT to consider a new funding model to improve capacity at the regulator. Improvement of the training programme and its integration into the national qualifications framework.

  • There is limited compliance in terms of drone registration.


Breakout 3: Progressive Regulatory Framework, Drone registration, RICA, etc.

Judging by the fewer number of registered drones in relation to the total estimated population, the low number of approved ROC holders and Approved Training Organisations, the existing regulations seem to lag behind the growth of the industry.

Key questions

  • How can CAA and law enforcement agencies collaborate in curbing illegal operations?

  • How can South Africa control the importation of drones into the country and ensure that all drones sold in the country are registered just like mobile phones (e.g. through RICA)?

  • How can we benchmark ourselves for best practice and against which countries?

  • How can the regulations support development of SMEs, including potential operators that are outside the aviation industry?

Key challenges

  • Barriers to entry are quite high. This might drive potential commercial operators into illegal operation of drones.

  • The costs are too high. How do we make it affordable for all South Africans from different backgrounds to participate in the industry?

  • Part 101 is one dimensional; it is biased towards manned aviation and is not necessarily suitable for unmanned aviation.

  • The regulations of 2015 were suitable then as the industry was still new however, they have not moved with the current requirements as technology keeps evolving at a faster pace.

  • There is limited compliance in terms of drone registration.


  • Sorting out the RPAS Letter of Approval (RLA) quickly will be a big boost for the industry as a low hanging fruit.

  • Create an organisation which is a custodian of the information on drone registration. An organisation with similar functions to ICASA. This will provide reliable data which can be accessed easily. The data should be accessible from a simple, efficient and cost effective repository.

  • Operators’ applications should be looked at on a case-by-case basis and categorisation of aircraft and operation types is necessary.

  • There is a need to segment the drone regulations dependent on commercial use, size and other categorisation. Regulators need to understand that which they are regulating as they review the regulations.

  • A template driven system for manuals is required for ease of application for RPAS compliance processes.

  • Future regulations should not be linked to a specific technology and should broaden the scope of what a drone is as technology is evolving every time.

  • There should be flexibility in the regulation of drones, options such as voluntarily compliance should be considered.

  • Fun and educational dissemination of information on drones and regulations to the general public will encourage more formal registrations.

Steve Odendaal and Subash Devkaran - SA CAA


Additional Comments on Presentations and Breakouts

General comments on presentations

  • The integration of UTM and ATM requires operators to be equipped differently. They need to be equipped on the surveillance system (radar) navigation system so that we can indicate areas that should be entered into.

  • People flying drones willy-nilly are not aware of the regulations and that they are prohibited from certain actions and airspaces.

  • Suggestions of intensive public education campaigns through all forms of media such Facebook, Twitter, television programmes, etc.

  • Proudly South African drones are needed for creation of jobs. It would take time for South Africa to produce something that will compete internationally in terms of performance and costs although there are local companies producing various technologies.

  • Government should integrate drone technologies to deliver services to citizens through e-government.

  • What needs to be decided upon urgently is, what is the required repository or database of drones, where will it be housed, is it at DoT? There is need for ensuring that all drones in the country are known as in the case of cell phones- in the same manner that one cannot buy a television without a licence. In the case of commercial drones only 0.1% are currently licensed but people generally use them and these need to be known.

  • The development of the industry should cater for transformation programmes and initiatives that can bring in demographic representation in the industry.

  • Costs for operators at the moment are more than R12 000. Due to compliance with regulations, this can easily exceed R1 million, thus placing it out of reach for small operators. For example, five staff members on the payroll are required for an ASL and ROC application process whilst the company is not yet operating.

  • The impact of drones is not yet fully known. However, even though in 2015 regulations were developed, it seems South Africa has regressed since then. There are many obstacles to be attended to by the government.

  • An enquiry was made on whether SAPS operations will be exempt from RPAS regulations.

  • There is need for collaboration across government and its relevant entities as well as with the industry in order to develop this industry.

General comments on the three Commissions

  • There should be a dedicated unit be established to deal with licensing of UAVs.

  • Creating an enabling environment for SME (innovation space) and value a proposition for South Africa.

  • Threshold costs for SMEs to enable empowerment (registration within 3 months).

  • A new layer of mobility in the city through Uber air, Amazon delivery programmes etc. is seen as an opportunity.

  • A pilot and testing programme especially for smart villages (in areas unreachable by road transport) is needed.

  • Drone usage and operations which are unique to South Africa are encouraged.

  • To reduce the importation of drones, appropriate tariffs can be considered to encourage local manufacturers to grow.

  • The industry is fragmented, there should be more alignment across and on all areas that need attention.

  • Attend to the demand and supply-side of drones, that is where education comes in handy.

Way forward

  • EDD will convene a smaller team of representative stakeholders from industry and government (relevant departments, municipalities, regulators and entities) as a matter of urgency to roll-out the implementation of the resolutions.

  • Key challenges to be unblocked:

  • CAA manpower/capacity;

  • Drone social usage vs commercial use;

  • Review regulations;

  • Reduce illegal operations;

  • Resolve privacy issues;

  • Strengthen law enforcement;

  • Educate law enforcers and citizenry;

  • Address affordability issues; and

  • Deal with foreign competition issues.

  • Key opportunities to be pursued:

  • Enhance local manufacturing;

  • Enhance SMEs and smart village participation;

  • Enhance pilot training programmes;

  • Introduce public support measures;

  • Integrate stakeholder activities;

  • Develop a registration process and data repository;

  • Simplify/segment regulations for SMEs; and

  • Speed up RPAS Letter of Authority process.

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