Radio-controlled model aircraft have been around for almost 100 years. Why suddenly now are the aviation authorities here and worldwide concerned with the industry of civilian drones? asks the writer.

Johannesburg -

Operating drones in South African airspace poses several safety risks for citizens, from midair collisions, with aircraft crashing into and killing people on the ground, and possible terrorist attacks.

The government is also concerned that criminal syndicates could use drones to ferry guns, drugs or contraband into prisons.

This is according to Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, who said Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations pertaining to the use of drones were expected to be finalised before the end of the current financial year, which ends in March.

Earlier this year, the CAA issued an immediate prohibition on the use of flying camera drones in South Africa, saying no further permits would be issued.

“The process of developing regulations in this regard takes consideration of the unique new safety and security risks presented by operation of remote aircraft systems, or drones as they are referred to in this question, in the South African airspace,” Peters said.

She was responding to a question by the DA’s Thomas Hadebe who had asked Peters when the CAA would finalise regulations pertaining to the use of drones, and if the department condoned the use of the aircraft to tackle poaching.

Peters pointed out that the safety risks included:

- The potential of a collision with an aircraft, resulting in fatalities in the air and on the ground.

- Drone failure, which could lead to them crashing and injuring people on the ground and damaging property.

- The starting of veldfires and endangering wildlife when a drone crashes into the bush-veld or nature reserve due to using lithium batteries and being powered by petrol.

- An intentional act to kill or harm an individual by deliberately crashing into him or her.

- Attaching a bomb to a drone with the intention to harm people or property.

- An intentional act to commit an act of terrorism due to the fact that it was often impossible to know who was controlling a drone and/or who the owner was.

“(Drones) have the technology to be flown anonymously beyond the visual line of sight for hundreds of kilometres using GPS tracking.

“There is no guarantee against hijacking of the command-control link, and the privacy of citizens is not guaranteed,” Peters said.

“Drones can also be used to transport guns, drugs or contraband into prisons or other areas in South Africa.

“It is unknown if poachers would not also use drones for poaching, and caution will have to be exercised.

“It would be unconstitutional to permit the usage of the technology in one sector while restricting other users,” she added.

The Star