A representative body for the South African unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, sector was launched on Thursday evening at Kyalami, north of Johannesburg. This is the South African Federation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS – another term for drones), officially abbreviated to Safu.
“Safu is a nonprofit organisation,” explained chairperson Sam Twala. “We currently have a strategic plan, but it is for a short time, only for this financial year.” This is because the federation is still in the process of setting itself up. “The complete [leadership] team is [currently] three of us.”
Nevertheless, Safu has set itself a number of missions, to promote and support the development of the UAV/UAS/drone sector in South Africa. Perhaps most importantly, the federation is intended to create and promote a common goal for the South African UAV sector.
“We [also] have a plan to have interest groups,” he reported. That is, under the aegis of Safu, various member companies will be able to set up groups to focus on concerns and issues of particular concern to them but not to all of the federation’s members.
Safu will also seek to educate drone operators in the safe and proper operation of UAVs, and “translate” South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) regulations into simple and clear language, accessible on the federation’s website. In parallel, the organisation intends to improve public knowledge about drones.
A really important function of Safu will be the collection and analysis of data about UAV operations in South Africa. Data, Twala highlighted, was essential for aviation safety. Data was essential to allow the federation to approach the different national agencies responsible for aviation safety, to request changes in their regulations and rules which would facilitate the commercial operation of UAVs. In addition to the SACAA, these included Air Traffic Navigation Services (responsible for the country’s air traffic management).
Data was needed for other purposes as well. UAVs, he noted, had a place in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But he pondered if government had enough information to understand this. Safu, he assured, would seek to supply government with the necessary information. Also, secure and safe command and control of drones would require that their operators be securely allocated a slice of the radio frequency spectrum for their activities.