South Africa

Contributor: Neerasha Singh


1. Are UAS considered as “aircraft” in your country?

Yes. The Civil Aviation Act defines an ‘aircraft’ as any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air, other than the reactions of the air against the surface of the earth. The Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs) refer to a UAS as a ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ and define it as an unmanned aircraft which is piloted from a remote pilot station, excluding model aircraft and toy aircraft. Furthermore, an ‘autonomous unmanned aircraft’ means an unmanned aircraft that does not allow intervention in the management of the flight. Accordingly, a UAS is considered an aircraft in South African law.

2. Which bodies regulate the remotely-piloted and/or unmanned aircraft operations in your country, under what basic laws?

The Civil Aviation Act forms the basis for regulating UAS operations. Based on the authority conferred to them by the Civil Aviation Act, the Ministry of Transport and the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have recently developed regulations, technical standards, and technical guidance material and circulars to regulate UAS operations.

The CARs were issued by the Minister of Transport and apply to what are known as Class-1 and Class-2 UAS and to owners, operators, pilots, and those who maintain such UAS. The Director of Civil Aviation also issued technical standards on UAS operations known as the South African Civil Aviation Technical Standards (SA-CATS) as well as a number of aeronautical information circulars (AICs) applicable to UAS.

3. Is there a distinction between “State UAS” and “Private UAS”?

A private operation is defined as the use of a UAS for an individual’s personal and private purpose where there is no commercial outcome, interest, or gain. Private operations are subject to specific restrictions. The CARs specifically apply to private operations and are silent on state-owned UAS and UAS intended for state use.

4. Is there any distinction between public, leisure and commercial UAS? What regulations are provided for UAS operations in each group?

Yes. UAS may be operated for commercial operations, corporate operations, non-profit operations, and private operations. Once an operator begins to derive commercial benefits from the operation of a UAS, the operation no longer constitutes a private operation for recreational purposes.

Commercial, corporate, and non-profit UAS operations are subject to various restrictions. The CARs include restrictions that state that a UAS cannot be operated for non-private purposes in South Africa unless the CAA Director has issued the operator a letter of approval and a certificate of registration. Furthermore, a UAS cannot be operated, in the case of commercial, corporate, and non-profit operations, unless such operator is the holder of a valid UAS Operators Certificate (ROC) including the operations specifications attached thereto; and in the case of commercial operations, an air services licence.

5. Is there a distinction, in terms of regulation, between completely autonomous UAS and remotely-piloted UAS?

Yes. UAS are distinguished from autonomous unmanned aircraft by the fact that UAS are regulated by the CARs whilst such application does not extend to autonomous unmanned aircraft.

Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Operations - Safety

6. How are UAS operations regulated in terms of safety?

In terms of safety, the regulation of UAS focuses on ensuring that safety measures are proportionate to the size of UAS operators and the type of UAS operations being conducted. The holder of a ROC must establish a safety management system appropriate to the size of the organisation or entity and the complexity of its UAS operations. This safety management system must include: a process to identify actual and potential safety hazards and assess the associated risks; a process to develop and implement remedial action necessary to maintain an acceptable level of safety; and provision for continuous and regular assessment of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the stated safety management activities.

7. Is the applicable regulation considering the rule of 1 UAS = 1 pilot?

No. A person or organization may hold ROCs for multiple UAS and therefore there is a possibility that there may be multiple pilots for 1 UAS.

Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") Operations - Licensing

8. What procedures are there to obtain licenses or the rights to operate UAS?

There are set procedures to obtain licenses and rights to operate UAS in South Africa. Any person who wished to operate a UAS within South Africa must obtain a letter of approval by the Director, which is valid for 12 months. Furthermore, a valid remote pilot licence (RPL) is required for commercial, corporate, and non-profit operations of a UAS. An RPL is issued for a two-year period at the end of which the holder must submit to a “revalidation check” before the RPL can be renewed. There are 3 categories of an RPL: Remote Pilot License (Aeroplane) (RPL (A)); Remote Pilot License (Helicopter) RPL (H); and Remote Pilot License (Multi-rotor) RPL (MR). There are also three different ratings of an RPL: visual line-of-sight (VLOS) operations; extended visual line-of-sight (E-VLOS) operations; and beyond visual line-of-sight (B-VLOS) operations.

9. Are there any kind of taxes or fees regarding the licensing procedure?

Yes. An application for the issuing or renewal of a letter of approval must be accompanied by a fee of R300.00.

10. Is a Certificate of Airworthiness mandatory to operate a UAS?

No. The CARs are silent on the issue of a Certificate of Airworthiness; however they do provide that a UAS may not be operated unless it is in a fit-to-fly condition.

11. Is access to the market for the provision of UAS operation services regulated and, if so, how?

No. The Regulations are silent on this. However, the sale and resale of UAS within South Africa is regulated and there are certain requirements that a UAS seller must meet before the sale of a UAS may be affected.

12. What requirements apply in the areas of financial strength and nationality of ownership regarding control of UAS?

None. The regulations are silent on this, however a UAS registered on the South African Civil Aircraft Register shall be deemed to have South African nationality.

13. Is drone transport permitted / regulated in your country?

No. The operation of UAS is permitted and regulated, however such regulation does not extend to the use of UAS as a means of transport.

Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") - Operations - Others

14. Is there a specific Data & Privacy Protection regulation applicable to UAS operations?


15. Is there a specific control-link interference regulation applicable to UAS operations?


16. Do specific rules regulate UAS manufacturers?

Yes. With regards to UAS which have been manufactured to be sold or re-sold within South Africa, there are certain requirements that a UAS seller must meet before the sale of a UAS may be affected. A seller of a UAS must, by way of a packaging label, or in the case of the resale thereof, by way of written notification, notify a buyer of the certain specific provisions of the CARs which stipulate the relevant requirements and restrictions which apply regarding the operation and use of a UAS.

17. What requirements must a foreign UAS operator satisfy in order to operate to or from your country?

None. The current legislative framework is silent regarding registration and operational requirements for foreign UAS operators, however, it is presumed that a foreign operator would have to follow the same licensing and registration application process as a South African operator.

18. Are fares or pricing of UAS operations regulated and, if so, how?


The Aircraft (“UAS”)

19. Must UAS be registered in any particular register?

Yes. The Director maintains a register of all registered UAS in the South African Civil Aircraft Register. A UAS registered in this register shall be deemed to have South African nationality.

20. Who is entitled to be mentioned in the UAS register?

All registered UAS.

21. Do requirements or limitations apply to the ownership of a UAS listed on your country’s register?

Yes. If the holder of a certificate of registration transfers ownership of the UAS to another person, such holder, must within 30 days, notify the Director of such transfer.

22. Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of UAS?

Yes. The CARs provide that a UAS must be compliant with the manufacturer’s instructions for continued equipment maintenance through actions or inspections. A UAS owner must submit a maintenance programme for the UAS to the Director for approval.

Operation Zones

23. Which are the operational and distance limitations for an aerial work with a UAS? Is there any kind of certificate or permission to operate beyond those limitations?

The CARs provide that a UAS may not tow another aircraft; perform aerial or aerobatic displays; or be flown in formation or swarm. This is a general restriction and no permission may be granted to operate beyond these limitations

Furthermore, no one, except the holder of a ROC, and as approved by the Director, may operate a UAS above 400ft above the surface; within a radius of 10km from an aerodrome; within restricted or prohibited airspace; or adjacent to or above a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point, or strategic installation. This is also a general restriction and no permission may be granted to operate beyond these limitations.

There are specific operational limitations which limit the operation of a UAS beyond visual line-of-sight, at night, in the vicinity of people, property, structures and buildings, and on public roads.

24. Are UAS obliged to take off from and/or land in specific facilities?

No. With regards to taking-off and landing the CARs only provide for the restriction that no person may use a public road as a place of landing or take-off of a UAS, except a holder of a ROC and as approved by the Director in the operator’s operations manual; and when approved by the relevant local authority.

25. Which kind of airspaces are UAS permitted to operate with?

UAS may only be operated in controlled airspace by a ROC holder and upon the approval of the Director in the operators’ operations manual. The Director may approve a UAS operation in controlled airspace only in a visual meteorological condition (VMC), in an airfield traffic zone (ATZ) and control zone (CTR) below 400ft; and subject to compliance with the conditions prescribed in the technical standards.

26. Which airspaces are restricted for UAS?

The following airspaces are restricted: above 400ft above the surface, within a radius of 10km from an aerodrome (airport, helipad, and airfield), and adjacent to or above a nuclear power plant, harbour, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point, or strategic installation.

27. Which zones are UAS operations banned?

UAS are banned in the following zones: near a manned aircraft, 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield), in controlled airspace (airport), in restricted airspace (harbours, power plants, prisons, police station, courts of law, key points etc.), and in prohibited airspace.

28. Who provides air traffic control services for UAS in your country?

Air traffic control services are provided by the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company SOC Limited.

Liability and Accidents

29. Are there any special rules in respect of loss or damage to cargo?

Yes. All incidents involving a UAS where there is any damage to property must be reported. The CARs also provide that a UAS may not carry dangerous goods as cargo, except if operated by a holder of a ROC and as approved by the Director in the operations manual.

30. Are there any special rules about the liability of UAS operators for surface damage?


31. Is there a mandatory accident and incident reporting system and, if so, how does it operate?

Yes. All accidents and incidents involving a UAS where there is any injury or death to a person, damage to property, or destruction of the UAS beyond economical repair must be reported in accordance with the specific provisions of the CARs. The system operates similar to other aircraft, to the extent that the relevant specific provisions of the CARs provide. All incidents involving a UAS where loss of control occurred must be reported to the holder of the ROC.

32. What system and procedures are in place for the investigation of UAS accidents?

The CARs are silent on the investigation of UAS accidents and incidents; however the Aviation Safety Investigation Board established by the Civil Aviation Act is primarily responsible for conducting an analysis into the cause of an air accident and the prevention of such accidents in the future. Once the Aviation Safety Investigation Board has completed its investigation of the air accident, it is obliged to prepare a report, which is made publicly available and which should specify any safety deficiencies identified and possible recommendations for the improvement of safety in the future.

33. Are UAS operators obliged to have insurance for their operations? If so, which are their main features?

Yes. A UAS must be adequately insured for third party liability. Registered owners or operators of aircraft must have insurance for damage or loss caused by an aircraft to any person or property on land or water.

34. What is insured? The operator, the business or the aircraft?

The UAS.

Financial Support and State Aid

35. Are there sector-specific rules regulating direct or indirect financial support to companies by the government or government-controlled agencies or companies (state aid) in the UAS sector? If not, do general state aid rules apply?


36. What are the main principles of the stated aid rules applicable to the UAS sector?


37. Are there exemptions from the state aid rules or situations in which they do not apply?


38. Must clearance from the competition authorities be obtained before state aid may be granted?



The South African legal framework in relation to UAS operation is fairly new. There was previously considerable uncertainty regarding the use and operation of UAS, as there were very few references made to UAS operations in both the Civil Aviation Act and the CARs, due to a lack of regulation. However, the Ministry of Transport has as recently as 2015 issued CARs which relate specifically to UAS operations in South Africa. Furthermore, the Director issued the SA-CATS which took effect on 1 July 2015. In addition, the Director also issued a number of AICs applicable to UAS operations and the CAA also issued technical guidance material for UAS operations in September 2015. Even though it is still in the early days, time will tell whether South Africa’s drone regulations will set the pace and become the benchmark or if they will be surpassed by other jurisdictions.

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