By Wyndham Hartley
THE South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) this week announced its intention of cracking down on the civilian use of drones, as they are popularly known.
Drones are aircraft that can fly without a pilot and are usually controlled by a computer on the ground.
In a statement, the authority said that its crackdown comes as a result of more and more drones, or “unmanned aircraft systems”, being flown in civil airspace.
It insisted that no civilian had been granted permission to fly a drone. Those who do so could face a hefty fine of up to R50,000 or a prison sentence.
While the authority is busy developing regulations for the use of drones in civil airspace, it apparently does have sufficient power to punish those who do so illegally.
Drones are increasingly being used commercially, and it was reported that one was used to photograph developments at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial while another was used to film a rugby match. At last year’s annual Oppikoppi music festival, patrons could order their beer delivered by drone.
They are sold in South Africa via websites such as Dronezone.co.za, where items such as “quadcopters” and the Skywalker 1900, which resembles a glider, sell for roughly R2,000-R6,000 each.
In military applications, drones have been most notably used by the US in launching missile attacks on what it believes to be terrorist targets in remote areas of Pakistan and the Middle East.