The waiting continues: UAS interim regulations expected in 2015

June 10th, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT

 

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has undertaken to have its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) interim guidance document ready before the end of March 2015. The interim guidance document is intended to be a provisional solution enabling restricted operational approval of UAS on a case-by-case basis, until maturity is attained by both the industry and the SACAA. Until such time, the aviation body reports that it will continue to engage with industry and remain receptive to any input from role-players in this sector.

Clare van Zwieten

Clare van Zwieten

Justifying the delay in providing a regulatory environment for legal UAS use in South Africa, the aviation authority revealed that there is growing evidence that territories that rushed to have unmanned aircraft systems introduced to their airspaces without proper regulation in place are now battling to ensure safety in the sector and are “inundated with incidents that border on aviation catastrophes”. In a statement issued on 3 June 2014, the SACAA indicates that it wants to avoid a similar situation occurring in South Africa, and believes that commercial or other gains should not be pushed ahead of realistic potential loss of life, intentional or otherwise.

The aviation body rightly points out that the lack of regulations to administer unmanned aircraft systems is a global challenge, and that South Africa has been actively participating in ongoing and collective global research to overcome this problem.

The SACAA states that it is “enthusiastic” about the integration of UAS into civilian airspace, but calls on all role-players to be mindful of various security and safety aspects. Key among these being the need to ensure that the technology installed on UAS is able to detect and avoid incidents and accidents. It adds, there is also a need to develop robust standards that will ensure separation from other aircraft or objects, and a secure frequency spectrum needs to be allocated in order to provide protection from unintentional or unlawful interference.

In the statement the aviation body also indicates that reports suggesting that the SACAA had recently issued a notice banning the use of unmanned aircraft systems specifically in the film industry are inaccurate. It pointedly denies ever issuing any specific notice or regulation banning the use of unmanned aircraft systems.

“The fact is that, since its inception, the SACAA has never issued any specific notice or regulation banning the use of unmanned aircraft systems,” says Phindiwe Gwebu, Senior Manager: Communications at the SACAA.

“The current Civil Aviation Regulations prescribe specific requirements for operating an aircraft in the South African airspace. To date, no UAS has been able to comply with these requirements. It should also be noted that the SACAA has not given any concession or approval to any organisation, individual, institution or government entity to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace.

“Those that are flying any type of unmanned aircraft are doing so illegally. The current civil aviation regulations mandate the SACAA to ensure safety and security in relation to any flying activities in the Republic. This equally pertains to UAS, and with the intent of protecting the citizens of South Africa from the numerous risks posed by unapproved operation of UAS,” she says.

Gwebu goes on to state: “Having noticed an upsurge in the number of entities and individuals that are disregarding applicable civil aviation rules, on 2 April 2014 the SACAA issued a media statement informing individuals and/or organisations that are already operating UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace that they are doing so illegally.

“This media statement was met with positive response, particularly from the majority of professional aviators and official organisations representing individuals and entities with vested interest in the UAS sector. A common message that resonated from these stakeholders was their eagerness to comply with applicable laws and where necessary to work hand-in-hand with the SACAA in order to take the UAS sector forward.

“On the other hand, the media statement was also met with misguided hostility. There were also attempts to reduce the SACAA’s safety and security concern to a debate between UAS and toys that generally do not require any operating permission from any government agency,” she adds.

The SACAA re-iterates that it is mandated to ensure aviation safety and security for all South Africans, and that a small group of individuals has chosen to ignore this fact. While expressing their understanding of why unmanned aircraft might appeal to the non-traditional aviators, the aviation body states that it is imperative to have a basic understanding of the aviation sector and how it is regulated in order to grasp the true safety implications and the remedy for these concerns.

In its statement, the SACAA refers to an unidentified group that its says has resorted to “arm-twisting tactics” that include the spreading of inaccurate statements in an attempt to garner support from the media and the public for their cause. The body says that these tactics are regrettable and futile; as the SACAA does not grant regulatory approvals through the media or any other public channels. It advises “reputable aviation personnel and entities” to use the long-standing channels and avenues (agreed upon by the Regulator and industry representatives) in order to source individual or regulatory approvals.”

The SACAA is concerned that some individuals or organisations are prepared to underplay safety and security concerns, and put profits before aviation and public safety. The organisation states it is committed to the development of the country’s aviation sector, pointing out that the UAS sector constitutes a relatively new component of the civil aviation framework; one which the SACAA, together with civil aviation authorities worldwide and under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), are working to understand, define and ultimately integrate into the civil aviation sector.

The body advises that South Africa is a Signatory State of ICAO, a United Nations body, and has invested heavily through active involvement in the ICAO Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group to develop guidance material and standards to guide contracting states in the development of their national guidance material and regulations. The ICAO is working towards providing a regulatory framework through Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), with supporting Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS) and guidance material, to underpin the routine operation of UAS in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.

SACAA recognises the urgent need and demand for UAS implementation for commercial and many other reasons, and states that it has allocated the necessary resources to the UAS programme to ensure a speedy integration of this type of aircraft into the South African airspace. In the meantime, the body states engagement with industry representatives will continue and its remains receptive to any input from role players.

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