Unmanned aerial operator body discusses way forward

August 1st, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT


The Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa (CUAASA) held a well-attended member meeting at the offices of the Commercial Aviation Association of Southern Africa (CAASA) on 17 July 2014.

CUAASA is a recently established voluntary organisation which aims to serve, promote, advance and protect the interests of the commercial unmanned aircraft industry. It aims to act as a link between the industry and government, government agencies and other public bodies within the Southern African region.  The organisation is an affiliate organisation of CAASA, which works to protect the commercial interests of the general aviation industry in southern African.

Leon Dillman, the CEO of CAASA welcomed the attendees to the meeting and provided them with some background on CAASA and the role that it plays in the aviation industry. He explained that CUAASA was set up to deal with uncertainly over the legal use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and said that it was essential to form an organised body in order to be able negotiate with the aviation regulatory authorities.

Leon Dillman (CAASA), Hennie Kieser (CUAASA), and Danie Bezuidenhout (CUAASA).

Leon Dillman (CAASA), Hennie Kieser (CUAASA), and Danie Bezuidenhout (CUAASA).

Hennie Kieser, the chairman of CUAASA, outlined the South African Civil Aviation Authority’s (SACAA) progress with regard to the development of UAS regulations in South Africa, and explained that the situation in South Africa is not unique. He said that aviation bodies around the world are grappling with how to regulate the use of UAS, as no-one had anticipated how fast the UAS industry would grow and the implications it would have for civil aviation authorities. Kieser added that CUAASA aims to pressurise the SACAA to include the UAS industry in the process of developing regulations for the use of UAS in South Africa. He stated that the SACAA needs to be aware of the unique requirements of UAS operators explaining that South African airspace is unique, and that South Africa as a country is unique, both of which result in unique challenges for South African UAS operators.

At present CUAASA has 60 members signed up, and it has called for additional members to join up so that CUAASA can demonstrate that it is a significant, representative body able to provide the necessary feedback to the regulatory authorities. Kieser added that CUAASA aims to pull out all stops to ensure that operators don’t have to wait until mid-2015 before the interim regulations are issued. He stressed that safety when operating UAS is non-negotiable and that CUAASA needs to have processes, plans and procedures in place that outline the actions required if something should go wrong. Kieser said that accidents were more likely to be caused by hobbyists making use of UAS, but said that this would still have a negative impact on CUAASA and its efforts to professionalise the UAS industry.

In the absence of any indications from the SACAA, retired General John Wesley gave a presentation on what the interim UAS regulations are likely to require from UAS operators. Outlined below are some of the key requirements that he said could be included in the interim regulations:

  • UAS operators will need to be certified operators of a UAS. Certain components of the PPL could be used for this certification.
  • Operators will need to get certification from suppliers indicating that they have received training on how to operate the system and know how to operate the system.
  • Operators will need to undergo training with regard to privacy issues relating to individuals, companies and data.
  • Air frames will need identification i.e. serial numbers.
  • UAS management systems will need to be certified.
  • Modifications to UAS systems will need to be certified.

Wesley stressed that that operators need to use proper systems that manufacturers are prepared to guarantee as being safe to operate, flights need to be properly planned and executed, and risk factors need to be accurately assessed for each flight. He emphasised the importance of record keeping explaining that CUAASA members’ records could be used to provide a proven track record when building a safety case thereby avoiding the need to undergo lengthy and expensive testing procedures.

The last speaker on the day was Danie Bezuidenhout who spoke on the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (POPI) and its implications for CUAASA members. He said that POPI does not just relate to the IT industry, and that members need to be familiarise themselves with privacy issues such as the preservation of human dignity, flying over private property without permission, the safeguarding of information and the avoidance of reputational harm. He added that the Act makes provision for fines of up to R10-million and prison sentences from 12 months to 10 years.

The meeting closed with an appeal to members to volunteer for working groups so that CUAASA can start putting together working groups to formulate standards and a way forward for the UAS industry.

Note: Following this meeting, the SACAA invited aviation entities to attend a UAS rulemaking workshop on 15 and 16 August 2014. CUAASA will be representing its members at this meeting.  The SACAA plans to hold a public workshop at a later date.

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