With South Africa being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, it comes as no surprise that photographers and filmmakers want to capture its scenery from all angles. Drones, of course, have made aerial photography possible for both professionals and amateurs. While these devices have taken off in South Africa over the last few years, their usage remained unregulated for quite some time.

But with drones having the potential to cause property damage and contravene private citizens’ right to privacy, amongst other things, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) laid out laws for drone use in South Africa.

Do I need a licence to operate a drone?

If you intend to use the drone for commercial use, i.e. take a picture or film a video planning to sell it, you need to get a Remote Pilot Licence (RPL). You will also have to register your drone, classified as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). However, if you are using your drone for recreational purposes, you don’t need to do either of the above, but it is always best to triple check. Of course, the general use and restrictions (clarified below) still apply.

Can I fly any model?

There are no specific laws about the required model, but the drone cannot weigh more than 7kg.

What are the restricted zones or spaces?

SACAA stipulates that no one may fly a drone in controlled, restricted or prohibited airspaces. These include crime scenes, courts, prisons, power stations, hospitals, national key points or national parks, such as Table Mountain National Park or Kruger National Park. You can also not fly a drone within 10km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad or airfield). Many municipalities have strict by-laws that forbid the use of drones.

What are the restrictions involving people or private property?

You are required to keep your drone at least 50m away from a person or a group of people in public places, like sports fields, social events, stadiums and beaches. The same distance applies to public roads and any private property, i.e. your neighbours’ homes.

What’s the punishment for breaking a drone law in South Africa?

It depends on which one you break, but you could face a hefty fine, confiscation of the drone, or time behind bars.

How to fly your drone safely:

  • Always fly/operate the drone in a safe manner;
  • Have your drone remain within the visual line of sight;
  • Fly/operate the drone in daylight and clear weather conditions; and
  • Inspect your aircraft before each flight

Could the laws change any time soon?

The regulations are relatively new, and laws can change with time. Many have complained that the drone laws in South Africa are a little too strict, so with the proper backing, some regulations could be relaxed.

So, before you venture out with your new gadget, be sure to have a look at the dos and don’ts checklist to avoid any run-ins with the law.