ATPL holder is South Africa’s first qualified RPAS operator


The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has issued the first pilot’s licence for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

The licence was issued on Friday, July 10 to Nicole Swart, making her the first person to receive such a licence in South Africa, the continent, and most parts of the world as many countries are still striving to come up with regulations to administer RPAS, the SACAA said.

She was handed the licence by the Director of Civil Aviation, Poppy Khoza, two weeks after remotely RPAS were integrated into the South African civil aviation airspace, following the introduction of relevant regulations at the start of July.

Swart is also a holder of the highest pilot’s licence, the Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL). When not flying remotely piloted aircraft or traditional manned aircraft, the 23-year-old works as a testing standards officer in the Aviation Personnel Standards department of SACAA.
“I am thrilled to be one of the pioneers in this field; but most importantly I am happy I have achieved another goal that I set myself. It was important for me to get an RPAS pilot’s licence, as I believe technology is advancing rapidly and in the near future this mode of transport will be as common and necessary as cellular phones are in this era. I wanted to ensure when that time comes, I am already a step ahead. Besides, both licences are crucial in my line of work, as the department in which I work is responsible for upholding testing standards for, among others, pilots,” she said.

Her fascination with aviation started when she was young. “When my sister and I were still young, our parents used to travel a lot due to work commitments. I would innocently wish I could fly to wherever they were when I missed them. That dream was cemented when I boarded an aeroplane the first time at the age of 13 to go on a holiday. I knew there and then I wanted to fly aeroplanes,” Swart said.

According to Khoza, the issuing of the RPAS pilot’s licence augurs well for getting the youth to join the aviation industry as well as transforming the sector.
“We need more young people to join the aviation industry as there is a shortage of specialist aviation skills across the world. It is also critical that women and historically disadvantaged individuals consider careers in aviation as current statistics relating to previously disadvantaged persons are still at miniscule levels with pilots, in particular, constituting eight percent of total licensed personnel.”

According to Khoza this lethargic growth of HDI and women participation is set to continue unless meaningful and game-changing interventions are not introduced.
“It is encouraging to observe young women such as Nicole breaking barriers in an untransformed and male-dominated environment. We need to help the likes of Nicole to break down barriers by embarking on initiatives to ensure transformation across all sectors of aviation,” she said.

Khoza said the SACAA was also looking forward to issuing the first RPAS operating licence for commercial activities; adding the number of applications received for commercial operations was far less than anticipated.

South Africa is one of a handful of countries around the world to have introduced comprehensive regulations to guide RPAS operations.