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Drones and ST schemes: What are the limitations?

Drone flying over roofs

There are many uses for drones in sectional title schemes, for example for inspection of the scheme’s roof for maintenance purposes. The use of drones has been unregulated and essentially illegal until recently.

New rules, found in Part 101 of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations regarding the use of drones, have been signed by the Minister of Transport, and came into effect on Wednesday 1 July 2015.

A drone operator does not need a pilot’s licence if he is operating the drone for private or hobby use. A Remote Pilots Licence is only required for commercial, corporate, and non-profit use. These operators must obtain Civil Aviation Authority approved and valid remote pilot licence, as well as a letter of approval to operate the drone. The letter of approval will be valid for 12 months.

I would not advise bodies corporate to take on the risk of potential liability by employing an unlicensed drone pilot. While you do not need to have these documents when buying a drone, the seller will have to make you aware of the requirements. Anyone above the age of 18 is allowed to purchase a drone, but the regulations restrict the use of drones dramatically.

What are the restrictions?

No drones

An operator cannot fly over or along a public road or use a public road for the take-off or landing of a drone. Drones cannot fly more than 120m above the ground. All private drones may only fly as high as the highest object within 300m lateral distance of the drone.

Drones cannot fly within 10km of an aerodrome. Commercial drone operations will be able to get special permission to fly close to airports to accomplish their work, provided they have air band radio and communicate with the air traffic control. Private drone pilots will not be able to fly closer than 10km from an airport, even if the airport gives them permission.

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Furthermore, drones cannot be flown within 50m above or close to a person or crowd of people, structure or building without prior South African Civil Aviation Authority approval. Private and commercial pilots can fly closer than 50m from people if those people are part of the operation and are under the control of the drone pilot. Private and commercial pilots can also fly closer than 50m to buildings if the owner of that building has given permission. Commercial drone operations will be able to get special permission to fly close to buildings to accomplish their work, such as survey and building inspection operations.

Drones cannot be flown adjacent to or above:

  • a nuclear power plant
  • a prison
  • a police station
  • a crime scene
  • a court of law
  • national key points or a
  • strategic installation

The rules do not apply to toy aircraft or unmanned free balloons or other types of aircraft which cannot be managed on a real-time basis during flight. The regulations clearly define toys as “designed or intended for use in play by children.” The regulations for drones are actually much less restrictive than the regulations for model aircraft. For example drones can fly at night, whereas model aircraft may not fly at night.

There are many beneficial uses to drones in community schemes. The main uses are the inspection of spaces and areas within the scheme that are hard or dangerous to reach. This would avoid the need for ladders and/or scaffolding. Ultimately videos of high or hard to reach spaces would be a far safer and cost effective method of doing facilities inspections and maintenance.

There are also drawbacks which may include the loss of privacy. These problematic issues can be mitigated if the use of drones for security, survey and inspection purposes are included in the scheme rules; and the owners and occupiers, (and possibly also the neighbouring property owners) are notified of the dates and times that the drones will be operated.

This feature first appeared on Paddocks and is reproduced here with their kind permission


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