Guidelines for African drones in power within the African market

Image courtesy of the African Drone Forum

Africa is a leader in large-scale supply of drones: commercial drone applications for mining and other heavy industries are on the rise. African drone regulations are evolving rapidly to support the continent’s growing drone industry.

Big things on the big continent – African drones

By: Dawn MK Zoldi, Contributor

Drone shipments in Africa have hit the headlines and saved lives. Zipline has flown its drones nearly a million miles with its ease to transport nearly 800,000 medical supplies and products such as blood, vaccines and medicines in Ghana and Rwanda. How easy is it to operate in Africa? Three pioneering experts explain the status of the regulations in Africa and project what we can see of the regulations there for drones in the future. ItIt’s not as easy as you think.

Denise Soesilo, a 2020 Leadership Award winner for women and drones to watch, has partnered with the African Drone Forum (ADF), a multi-stakeholder engagement platform for drone technologies and services that empowers African drone Community connects and curates knowledge relevant to stakeholders and defines the requirements of radio frequency drone services with the potential for significant social and economic benefits. She explains, Africa as a continent has a heterogeneous regulatory environment that is evolving rapidly. “Soesilo and her colleagues have carefully studied the regulations for African drones. About 33% of African countries (18) have drone regulations, 25% have guidelines and the rest have no drone regulations, ”she says.

These regulations vary greatly from state to state. Sonet Kock, Aviation Compliance Advisor at AviComply Ltd, a South African based company providing professional compliance services to manned and unmanned aviation companies, points out that unlike Europe, Canada, Australia and the US, there is no pan – currently there is African aviation regulator or an overarching regulatory framework. The African Union (AU) has met and held talks, but so far each state has regulated drones independently. Understanding or lack of the regulatory environment is critical before doing anything in Africa.

One nation, South Africa (SA), has been a leader in regulating African drones. South Africa was the first African country to introduce drone regulations in 2015. Kim James, director and founder of two South African companies, UAV Aerial Works, employs drone pilots, engineers, software developers and data scientists to provide regulated flight services and deliver data to improve business results and drone guards that support pilots, drones and software systems used by security operators worldwide, develop the SA regulatory approach. James informs: “South Africa is currently following the certification model, similar to how the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) regulates manned aircraft.”

Part 101 of the SA Civil Aviation Regulations (SACARs) regulates the operation of commercial drones, i.e. those that contain profit, interest or profit. These requirements include that all operators have an Air Service License (ASL) issued by the Air Service Licensing Council of the Department of Transport, as well as an RPL (Remote Pilots License) and RPAS (Remote Piloted Aircraft System) (ROC) operator certificate) issued by the SACAA. Each drone must be individually registered and included in an ROC Operating Specification (OpSpec) that accompanies the ROC and specifies which drones are flown for which types of operations. These operations may include out of sight operations (BVLOS), night and over-the-air operations (OOP) and an AGL greater than 400 feet under certain conditions. Permitted OOP flights over people, property and public roads require additional permits in some cases. In addition, according to James, you need the consent of the landowner to fly over private and municipal property for security and privacy reasons. ROC approvals are valid for one year.

The SACAA audits drone service providers every year. If a company meets compliance standards, its ROC is extended for an additional year. Every drone must be insured for third party liability. SA does not yet have any remote identification requirements or counter-drone rules in the books. James believes this will be important once SA and other African countries switch to a coherent unmanned traffic management system (UTM). Recreational users can fly their hobby drones according to the hobby rules set out in Part 101.

Although SA does not have a formal UTM system, they have already integrated drones with air traffic control (ATC). According to Kock, drone pilots in SA communicate directly with ATC via radio.

SA is just one of many examples of drone regulations in Africa. The regulatory environment is as diverse as the physical environment. In many African countries, foreign operators, including operators from neighboring African countries, cannot legally register their drones if they are not a citizen or a national entity. This prevents them from operating there. Some countries, like Kenya, have already banned drones. Others like Zimbabwe use South Africas regulatory template. James says the news is encouraging. While some countries are getting a little stricter regarding granted approvals and new registration requirements, many countries are opening up. Last year, Kenya lifted the ban on drone flights. Several countries such as Rwanda and Sierra Leone have worked to adopt elements of the ICAO model for UAS regulations.

Regional ways of harmonization are an opportunity in Africa that could support interoperability as well as the exchange and trade of services and service providers between countries, ”said Soesilo, who was also flight director in 2020 African Drone Forum (ADF) Lake Kivu flying competitions in Rwanda. Soesilo and her ADF colleagues are preparing to publish a range of practical resources on African drone regulations, including: A report reviewing all 55 AU statesDrone regulations, an introduction to UTM services and a playbook for activating civilian drone services. The group is also currently working on a roadmap to harmonize regulations.

All three experts agree that a categorization model similar to JARUS SORA’s air and ground risk-based model would work well as a pan-African and national regulatory model. Europe, Canada and Australia is already using it.

Until then, James recommends checking each countrys Civil Aviation Authority website with information on specific requirements.

Women and drones AfricaThe program, which started in early 2021, also offers weekly free online training and networking fireside chats. Soesilo has also teamed up with his ADF colleague David Guerin to develop as part of the Global database for drone determinations.

Dawn MK Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of active military and federal service in the Air Force Department. She is an internationally recognized expert on the law and politics of unmanned aircraft systems, a columnist for several magazines, recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. You can find more information on their website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.

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