Drones will take over manned aviation jobs, says SA’s first licence holder


Drones could soon take over numerous traditionally manned aviation jobs – but the consequences could be hazardous if regulations are not followed.

So said Nicole Swart (23), a testing standards officer for the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who was issued the first pilot’s licence for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS or drone) last week, two weeks after the official regulations were instated.
“I see big things happening, as the technology evolves at an exponential rate.” Swart predicts drones will soon be replacing jobs in aviation such as the transportation of goods and aerial surveying, because it is more economical and if used correctly, safer.

Hazardous consequences

However, she said if regulations are not followed, there could be serious consequences. She cited the incident at the Rand Show where someone who did not understand the severity of their actions, caused an airplane formation to be called off. “As small as these things are, they are able to reach extreme heights and could fly into the engine of a plane and cause it to crash.”

Earlier this week, a Lufthansa plane approaching an international airport in Poland nearly collided with what appeared to be a drone. The drone passed within 100 metres of the plane, five kilometres from the airport; even though regulations prevent drones from flying within 20 kilometres of an airport.

Swart says that the people need to be made aware of the consequences of flying drones and that regulations should not be taken lightly.

Last week, a drone halted fire fighting efforts in the US. The was fire raging from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and fire fighting helicopters were grounded for 25 minutes after a drone was spotted flying over the fire – presumably for a hobbyist to take pictures of the fire.

Authorities warned that even a 25 minute pause in fighting a wild fire, allows it to grow larger and cause more damage.

She says South Africa is one of a few countries around the world to have introduced comprehensive regulations to guide drone operations. The CAA has only received 30 licence applications so far, but not every application meets the requirements. The number is far less than originally anticipated.

Testing standards

Swart has been flying airplanes for the past six years; she received her commercial pilot’s licence when she was 19. Before she worked for the CAA, she was a flight instructor in Port Alfred.

Both a commercial pilot’s licence and a drone licence are crucial in her line of work, as the department in which she works is responsible for upholding testing standards for, among others, pilots.

Swart says that it was part of her job as a testing standards officer to know how the new technology works and so pursued a RPAS licence. Part of her mandate as a standards testing officer is to make sure licence holders know how to use the technology safely and also to stay abreast of how the technology is being used internationally.