Drone brings Silver Falcons aerobatic display to a premature halt

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The drone incident that disrupted the Silver Falcons display during the official opening of the Rand show is being investigated by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

A man, now known to the SACAA, apparently launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) while the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) crack aerobatic team was in action above the Nasrec exhibition grounds on Friday.

Reports indicate Brian Emmenis, South Africa’s top airshow commentator, immediately asked the UAV pilot to land the aircraft and waved off the Silver Falcons. A ground-based member of the Silver Falcons team told Netwerk24 the “device” (UAV/drone) could endanger lives.
“It could hit an aircraft causing damage and the resulting debris could hit people. The aircraft could even crash,” he is reported as having said.

Rand Show director Paula Dippenaar said the aerobatic team was busy with their display when the drone was spotted. This led to the airshow programme being delayed while the drone operator was found, she said, adding “the relevant authorities” were investigating.

Phindiwe Gwebu, SACAA Senior Manager: Corporate Communications and Marketing, said the matter had been handed to the authority’s enforcement department.
“The operator is known to officials who were at the Rand Show and we are engaging them as part of the investigation,” she said, adding it was still illegal to operate drones, or RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems, the name selected by the SACAA for this class of aircraft).
“This will be the case until regulations are promulgated and published. Any operator who operates these (RPAS) will be taken through the enforcement process. The outcome of the Rand Show investigation is not known at this stage.”

The SACAA beat its self-imposed deadline of March 31 to complete and submit draft regulations for RPAS to Transport Minister Dipuo Peters. Once approved by the minister it is anticipated regulations governing the use of RPAS will be promulgated and published but no timeframe has been made available.

The draft regulations require aircraft to be licensed and registered and pilots/operators to undergo training to qualify them to fly the aircraft. Someone would only be able to fly a remotely piloted aircraft if they have an RPA Pilot License, an RPA Operator Certificate, a certificate of RPA registration and an RPA Letter of Approval.