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Ask Arthur

Ask Arthur: Does my drone need a licence?

A reader is nervous about flying a drone for recreational purposes. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK lays down the law.

Q: I was given a small drone as a Christmas present and am experimenting with it. I’m enjoying taking aerial photos at parks and around my home. Now I hear I have to have a license or it can be confiscated. Is this true? Are there any rules I should be aware of?

A: You don’t need a license if it is for recreational purposes, with the proviso that it is only used recreationally and within certain specific limits. The bad news is, yes, there are rules restricting your use. The good news is, the rules are very clearcut. That also means you can’t plead ignorance.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority has issued a set of regulations for what it quaintly calls Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), in case they are accused of being cool as a result of saying “drones”.

To start with, you cannot fly a drone or toy aircraft:

  • 50m or closer to any person or group of persons (like sports field, road races, schools, social events, etc.
  • 50m or closer to any property without permission from the property owner.
  • 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
  • Weighing more than 7kg
  • In controlled airspace
  • In restricted airspace
  • In prohibited airspace
  • Adjacent to or above a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point or strategic installation
  • Over property for which you do not have permission to do so
  • Beyond your visual line of sight
  • At night or in poor weather conditions.

Technically, that means you can’t fly it over your own suburban home, because it would typically be within 50m of the neighbour. So any harassments of neighbours will invoke several penalties. Ultimately, it means that safety, security and privacy take precedence over your right to drone entertainment.

You need to license your drone with the SACAA (see if:

  • It weighs more than 7 kilograms.
  • You use it for commercial purposes.

These rules also apply to model airplanes, but the Director of Civil Aviation has designated oversight of “recreational aviation” to the South African Model Aircraft Association (SAAMA). See

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