Drones Council launched to expedite advancement of regulatory environment

15th July 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

The Drone Council South Africa (DCSA) was launched on July 15 with its first webinar to update global stakeholders in the private and public sectors on progress being made in the drones industry, both internationally and in South Africa.

The DCSA was formed in part to address South Africa’s sluggish response to developing new and modern regulations to enable the domestic industry to move forward and deploy the latest technology.

South Africa was the first African nation to enforce drone regulations with the Civil Aviation Authority of South Africa’s Part 101 regulations having come into effect in 2015.

However, since then, drone technology has progressed significantly and many countries, including many in Africa, have amended their regulations to cater for newer technology and modern applications, such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operability.

BVLOS, for example is currently broadly banned in South Africa, except for military operations. Some other countries in Africa, such as Ghana and Rwanda, have permitted BVLOS operations in their regulations and have successful BVLOS operations under way.

DCSA chairperson Irvin Phenyane says South Africa’s sluggish response to global drone technology trends has put the country on the back foot and has exposed South Africa’s lost opportunities.

“South Africa was the first country in Africa to approve drone (RPAS) regulations, but subsequent international investment has gone elsewhere in Africa”, leading to South Africa having now to “play catch-up”.

However, he says that after 16 months of consultation, there is now industry consensus that all stakeholders must be rallied under one national strategy. “Therefore, the launch [of DCSA] will be held under the theme ‘Strategic partnerships to accelerate a national growth strategy for the drone industry'.

As part of DCSA’s effort to grow the industry, new drone technology skills for graduates, current aviators and unemployed youth are being considered.

Phenyane notes that many developing countries are now using drone technology in many industries like town planning, project monitoring, rail services, road maintenance, crop spraying, delivery of goods and the security industry. “The accelerated growth of the drone industry is paramount to the economic growth of our country.”

Starting immediately, he says the DCSA will embark upon its Operation Catch-Up 2023, which involves catching up from five years of delays in drone regulations, and being up to date with the latest regulations and technology by the beginning of 2023.

“Our focus as the drones council is to assist our partners in government and the private sector and investors. We need to be very clear as South Africa what we want to do.”

In relation to progressing the drones industry and regulations thereof, Phenyane adds that the DCSA will begin, in its effort to build a stronger South African drones economy, to build a country strategy.

“A country strategy is a policy framework for the long- or medium-term which has been adopted by government as a plan of action for a particular sector of the economy.”

In this instance, he says Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams will be instrumental in providing the DCSA with clear direction on a country strategy.

Phenyane adds that South Africa’s drone countrystrategy will be rolled out well in advance of the finalisation of its 2023 catch-up initiative.

The country strategy will comprise four key pillars, he says, with the first being to grow industry stakeholders and expand the role currently played by drones. “Consumer demand needs to be increased by increasing the shareholder base in South Africa and introducing new technology.”

Secondly, the DCSA plans to increase the commercial market, which will increase South African drones' contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product.

“This happens by investing in it and increasing its resources. This needs to be applied to a wide range of civil industries and government services.”

The third aspect is that technology needs to be expanded rapidly in South Africa, while the fourth pillar involves improving South Africa’s drone regulatory environment.

The DCSA’s objectives include improving industry collaboration, incubating drone businesses, enhancing the drones industry and sector, enhancing drone pilot training, improving South Africa’s drone competitiveness on a global scale, transforming the industry and harnessing drone manufacturing and maintenance capacity.