A challenge to entering the drones industry as an entrepreneur or business person, especially to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, is the necessity to pass in-depth medical examinations, says drone specialised services company Ntsu Aviation founder Sam Twala.
Drone pilots applying for a remote pilots licence (RPL) up to Class 3 operator require a medical evaluation and the passing, in full, of similar health assessments as pilots of crewed flights.
This becomes “contentious” because, he says, drone pilots are located, almost always, in a fixed position on the ground and should not have to meet the same strict medical credentials as pilots of crewed aircraft.
The drones industry, with entrants of various ages, backgrounds and degrees of health is constantly growing in line with new applications and as more customers require drone services.
However, forcing medical tests on entrants that may have limited finances (such as youth, students or low-income earners), unfairly serves to exclude them, or otherwise burden them, suggests Twala.
RPLs are granted for four classes of operators, from Class 1 to 4, with Classes 1 to 3 having the same fixed criteria. He says this is “unfortunate” because such regulatory requirements were designed for pilots of crewed aircraft, where health and safety are paramount to avoiding accidents and aircraft collisions.
“When you fly a drone, you need to be certified at a certain level . . . for someone flying a drone that is [located] on the ground that weighs about a kilogramme – do you really have to go through all [these medical tests]?” questions Twala.
One of the examinations in Classes 1 to 3 even includes a body mass index (BMI) assessment, which automatically disqualifies people with a higher BMI, but otherwise good health and wanting to operate a drone in a professional capacity.
“It is time that we review the medical assessments. The regulations [should be amended] to make sense in terms of what [the drones industry] is doing,” he says.
Further, some of the medical tests and reports required as part of the Class 3 medical assessments are not covered by public-sector medical facilities, thereby creating further nuisance to those from a disadvantaged background and adding unnecessary costs and delays.
As an example of how the extensive medical evaluations are hindering certain demographics, Twala says there was a recent case of an HIV positive student going through a Class 3 RPL course.
The tests she had to go through as part of the compulsory medical evaluation were extensive, with many of the individual evaluations on the forms being so medically technical that they were incomprehensible to the average person.
“. . . does it mean when you are HIV positive, to a greater extent you are unfit to fly a drone. It does not make sense,” he says.
Twala spoke at the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference at Emperors Palace on May 12.