Draft “drone” regulations under discussion at CARCom

September 5th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: EE Publishers, Featured: PositionIT

 

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) tabled the draft regulations on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) before the Civil Aviation Regulations Committee (CARCom) on 3 September 2014, and further discussions will take place during September. At a UAS regulations making workshop held on 14 and 15 August 2014, the SACAA’s General Manager for Aircraft Safety, Mpho Lebogo, stated that the pace of putting together the regulations has been accelerated and that the final regulations will be in place by March 2015. If approved by CARCom, the regulations will be published in the Government Gazette and public comments may be submitted during the requisite 30-day period.

This news will come as a relief to South African UAS operators who have been frustrated in their efforts to use, sell and/or manufacture UAS technologies. This frustration is not unique to South Africa. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and civilian aviation regulators worldwide have been grappling for some time now with the issue of developing an appropriate regulatory framework to ensure the safe, secure and seamless integration of UAS into the traditional aviation sector. Currently there are no standards and recommended practices governing certification, personnel and operator licensing anywhere in the world.

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Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), hailed as a forward thinker in UAS circles, is facing increasing pressure to rethink its decision not to regulate operators flying UAS weighing less than 2 kg following several close calls between UAS and manned aviation flights, as well as an increasing number of privacy complaints.  The Australian Certified UAV Operators Association (ACUO) has also called on CASA to adopt a harder line in order to combat the growing problem of illegal unmanned aircraft operations in Australia.

Developing a regulatory framework is a complex progress and it will be difficult to satisfy the requirements of all players in this sector whether surveyors, mining companies, security service providers, farmers, film makers, photographers and so on. The situation is further complicated by the fact that UAS are currently available to any South African who can buy or build one, and that UAS technology is continually evolving. There is also great variety in the size of UAS – the Black Hornet weighs a mere 18 g while the Molynx weighs 2000 kg.

At the UAS regulatory workshop representatives from the SACAA advised that they have been working with the ICAO working group to develop global technical standards and guidance material, and have recently accelerated their efforts to develop a UAS regulatory framework. The 120 industry participants were presented with some of the ideas that will be incorporated into the draft regulations, and were asked to provide input on the current approach.

Albert Msithini, SACAA’s Manager for Unmanned Aerial Systems, explained that UAS is an umbrella term encompassing remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), autonomous aircraft, and semi-autonomous aircraft. He added that the industry preferred not to use the word “drone” due to its military connotations. Msithini stated that phase one of the regulatory process will deal with RPAS. It was also explained that RPAS with automated features are not necessarily considered autonomous. The ICAO defines an autonomous craft as an unmanned aircraft that does not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight.

The broad parameters of the proposed regulatory approach were outlined by Sam Twala, a certification engineer at the SACAA, who stressed that the framework has been developed in accordance with SACAA’s responsibility to ensure safe, secure and orderly aviation operations that encompass the safety of people and property on the ground.  It aimed to seek a balance between under- and over-regulating the South African UAS industry. Twala explained that in order to minimise risk when conducting RPAS operations the following approach is being considered:

  • RPAS only to be flown in uncontrolled airspace.
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) to be maintained between the remote pilot and the RPA, or extended visual line-of-sight (E-VLOS) with the aid of one observer only.
  • RPAS flights to be kept below 400 feet.
  • A mass/energy limitation to be imposed.
  • RPAS operations to be restricted to day operations and clear meteorological conditions
  • RPAS flight operations to be away from public roads, built-up and inhabited areas.
  • No flying of RPAS near aerodromes and heliports
  • No RPAS operations at national key points and strategic installations

Representatives from industry expressed their concerns about the restriction to daytime operations explaining that certain mining, anti-poaching and crime prevention operations need to be conducted at night. Twala explained that it will be possible to apply for exemption from these basic conditions but that operators will need to provide reasons and will have to provide details on how the increased risks will be mitigated against. Exemptions are expected to be valid for a period of 180 days.

Some of the options that operators may consider to mitigate risk were discussed. These include the issuing of a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), and obtaining written permission from the owner/s of the land over which the RPAS operation will take place.

Twala explained that the proposed approach is designed to ensure that RPAS operations will have a minimal impact on current aviation systems, and that its adoption will facilitate the creation of a robust regulatory framework that is less susceptible to significant changes after the fact. He also pointed out that the sooner RPAS operations are regulated, the sooner South African RPAS aviation experts can start to generate statistics for future regulations and standard generation.

There was some discussion regarding flight training and testing of remote pilots being conducted by an accredited South African Model Aircraft Association (SAMAA) instructor, however Hennie Kieser from the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA) objected here saying that CUAASA would prefer that this responsibility fall under its ambit as CUAASA represents commercial operators of RPAS systems while SAMAA represents recreational users.

The remainder of the workshop featured presentations and discussions on RPA Operators’ Certificates, RPAS technical provisions, personnel licensing, flight operations, rules of the air and aviation security. Attendees were also provided with a glimpse of the proposed categories of RPAS classification which seeks to classify RPAS by means of weight, altitude, kinetic energy and visual-line-of-sight parameters.

It was explained that all RPAS will need to be registered with the SACAA. Owners will have to draw up maintenance programmes and operators will have to provide maintenance control programmes. Issuance of a licence certificate or approval will be granted if the applicant complies with the requirements outlined in the regulatory framework.

Industry representatives debated the issue of RPAS maintenance and audits particularly in relation to smaller consumer-based models. It was pointed out that many of the smaller RPAS are acquired partially assembled and have to be put together by the purchaser, and that many of the cheaper models are considered “disposable” after a fairly limited time period.

There was some discussion around the marking of aircraft with the SACAA proposing that each craft have a registration and serial number. Industry representatives explained that the size and shape of certain RPAS make this a bit difficult. Several proposals were provided by attendees on how to provide a means to identify craft, and the SACAA undertook to assess these suggestions. The attendees were also asked to provide their opinion on whether it would be feasible to require all RPAS to be fitted with a means to measure altitude to ensure that RPAS operators keep their systems below 400 feet.

It was pointed out that the regulations will require operators to provide a comprehensive analysis of potentially dangerous events and their potential impacts. RPAS operators will need to identify the potential risk factors and prepare their flight plans accordingly. They will also need to provide evidence of emergency scenario planning in order to avoid uncontrolled RPAS landings.

The SACAA representatives also explained that a major concern of civilian aviation regulators is security and that the planned regulations will require owners/operators to carry out background checks on personnel, conduct criminal record checks every 24 months, provide secure storage and transport of RPAS, and ensure that RPAS are protected from unlawful interference.  Owner/operators will also need to apply measures to prevent and detect tampering, and to ensure the integrity of vital systems. This will include applying measures to protect RPAS software and Command to Control links (C2) from hacking, spoofing and other forms of interference.

In line with this, it was revealed that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is on board with the enhanced pace of the RPAS regulatory framework provision, and has undertaken to provide a frequency allocation for South African RPAS operators.

It was pointed out to the attendees that the communication link between the RPAS and the pilot is a potential vulnerability, and operators need to fully understand how their systems will behave if the connection is lost or compromised in order to mitigate against this risk. In addition, the reporting of incidences to the SACAA – whether attempted theft or malfunction – is critical as the SACAA will use these reports to identify trends.

A major problem that the workshop did not address, however, was how to handle operators who will not be abiding by the regulatory framework once it is implemented. As evidenced by articles from around the world, unregulated RPAS operators are making a nuisance of themselves and it will be the regulated RPAS industry that will bear the brunt of negative public opinion.

The SACAA reiterated several times during the course of the workshop that it will not be providing authorisation to any RPAS operators prior to the regulations being adopted. While industry representatives would have preferred to leave the workshop with immediate authorisation to commence RPAS operations, they were generally positive that regulations will be in place by the end of March 2015 and that a regulatory framework will be of benefit to the burgeoning RPAS industry.

Send your comments to: positionit@ee.co.za

 

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