Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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South Africa needs a drone register

Bryan Verpoort.The first insurer to offer commercial drone insurance has called for the drafting of a register of all drones in South Africa.

Bryan Verpoort, the head of Unmanned Aviation at ITOO Risks – a division of Hollard Insurance, currently insures 300 drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs) operating in a variety of sectors. His company recently paid out its first claim – for R1 million.

“There’s no register for drones in this country yet you can’t get a bank account without Fica, own a cellphone without Rica or even watch TV without a licence, but you don’t need one for drones,” he said during the first day of DroneCon 2018 at Vodaworld, in Midrand, north of Johannesburg on 16 May.

“You need to know if a drone lands in your yard whether it was from the little boy next door or whether it was burglars scoping out your house.”

Drones were being used in an ever-expanding range of operations, he said; from film to mining; agriculture; policing; security and surveillance; humanitarian operations and NGOs; and military operations such as surveillance.

“We know that organised crime syndicates are using drones to poach rhinos.”

Drones, he said, could smuggle contraband from drugs to illicit diamonds, and they could be weaponised.

“DJI drones have been banned in the US because their servers are in China. A lot of high end drones are deregulated military tech, some made by defence contractors in the US who are not making enough money out of war anymore.”

A national drone registry, he said, would allow for drones to be tracked, their owners and operators to be held accountable, their flights recorded and allow for immediate mass communication to all in times of crisis, like the air traffic shutdown in the US in the wake of 9/11.

“We can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said, “but we do need to manage this responsibly.”