Calls for more flexible drone regulatory environment at DroneCon

June 9th, 2017, Published in Articles: PositionIT


Some interesting statistics relating to the South African drone industry were presented at DroneCon 2017 which was held at VodaWorld in Midrand from 7 to 9 June 2017. Economist Dr. Roelof Botha gave an enlightening keynote address on drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and their role in the South African economy. He pushed the case for a more flexible regulatory framework to facilitate the growth of the South African drone industry pointing out the socio-economic disadvantages of an excessively regulated business environment.

Sean Reitz (United Drone Holdings) discussing the macro-economic impact of South Africa’s drone industry with Dr. Roelof Botha.

Botha, who has extensive experience in the economics of aviation, was commissioned by conference organiser United Drone Holdings to perform an economic impact assessment (EIA) of the drone industry. He pointed out that a comparison between the latest EIA and a previous one conducted in 2015 indicates that the domestic drone industry is expanding at an exponential rate. Botha said that this is also the case globally, with the US, Europe and Asia competing for future industry dominance.

The total economic output generated by the South African drone industry has increased six-fold to R6,5-billion, he said, with the contribution to taxation revenues increasing more than 18-fold to R2,6-billion. He also revealed that employment in this sector has increased more than ten-fold to 34 500.

Drone demonstrations being conducted in the drone cage.

Botha stated that preliminary research in the US indicates that, although there are multiple uses for drones, precision agriculture and public safety are the most promising commercial and civil markets, and research commissioned by the European Union concurs with this view, but also includes the energy sector and delivery services. In line with this, DroneCon 2017 featured several presentations on using drones to improve efficiencies in the mining sector and to monitor and increase agricultural output.

As part of his call for a more business-friendly regulation, Botha cited an extensive list of macroeconomic advantages for the expansion of the South African UAS industry which included cost savings to a range of businesses, more accurate data collection, mapping of inaccessible locations, and more effective maritime surveillance. Talks on using thermal technology for security purposes, and feedback on how drones have been utilised in police search and rescue as well as anti-poaching operations backed up this message.

All in all, the three-day conference covered a varied array of topics relating to UAS. It included presentations about the South African drone regulations, how to grow the South African UAS industry, emerging UAS technologies including the latest developments with regard to BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flights, and sharing controlled airspace.

Training was an important aspect of the event too with sessions on how to acquire a Remote Pilot Licence (RPL), insurance options for drones, camera set-up, and the editing and processing software options available.

The conference was not all talk though. The DroneCon exhibition area featured an indoor drone cage with live flights of a variety of UAS, and delegates were able to witness for themselves the capturing, processing and sharing of data. An array of drones was on display with delegates able to view hand-sized racing drones, fixed wing UAS, quadcopters, and octocopters with experts on hand to guide delegates on the optimal use and capabilities of specific units.

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