Regulations governing the use of drones in South Africa and an inability by the Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) to grant access to airspace were limiting service providers who want to use drones for short, but beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS, operations, such as so-called “last mile” deliveries, courier companies and other logistics applications, Ntsu Aviation co-founder Sam Twala told delegates at a conference last week.
Speaking at the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference 2021 on November 25, he said that there were issues around how drone operators access airspace.
Twala noted that, although technology allowed for a drone to take off from OR Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg, and fly to Cape Town International Airport, in Cape Town, there would be challenges in getting legal access to airspace to conduct that flight.
“ATNS would not really know how to do that. That . . . brings a challenge into the industry,” he said.
As such, limitations in terms of access to airspace would continue to hamper growth of the drones industry, while stifling endeavours for logistics and delivery companies to use specialised drones, said Twala.
He said the Civil Aviation Authority’s job in policing the skies and applying regulations broadly to the drones industry was a difficult task and it acknowledged that the regulator had made some positive progress in this regard.
He noted that it was a challenge for the regulator not to over-regulate certain drone operators while simultaneously endeavouring not to under-regulate others.
Twala alluded that, in the instance of pleasing smaller drone operators with an easing of regulations, larger drone operations may become unsafe as the regulations will become mismatched and misaligned for either.
“As a regulator, the bottom line is [that] safety comes first. That is one of the challenges that any regulator across the globe [will face], not only South Africa,” he said.