The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) have taken over investigations into a drone that crashed at Eskom’s nuclear plant, Koeburg Power Station.
However, legal experts say the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has specific procedure for such accidents and is better-equipped to deal with this issue.
On Wednesday, power utility Eskom revealed a drone crashed at the power station in contravention of the nuclear safety regulations. No arrests have been made but the matter was reported to the SAPS as Koeberg is a national key point.
The Hawks say they are involved because the case involved the violation of the National Key Point Act as well as the Civil Aviation Act.
Meanwhile, the SACAA says the authority would never condone or tolerate any form of blatant disregard of the applicable rules. It adds the crash is being handled by its legal and aviation compliance division.
The drone in question has since been returned to its owner without the investigation having been completed. Eskom subsequently suspended the Koeberg safety officer as a precautionary measure to fully investigate the incident.
Lisa Emma-Iwuoha, an attorney at law firm Michalsons, says: “The best option is to report the incident to the police and the SACAA. The SACAA have specific procedure for accidents and they are better-equipped to deal with this issue. Eskom should report this incident to the SACAA with as much detail as they have about the drone.”
As of 1 July 2015, the SACAA adopted new regulations for operating drones in SA. The regulations were because of a rising need from the industry to regulate this new technology so it could operate safely within local airspace. This placed SA as a world leader in drone regulation, and many other countries have followed suit.
According to Emma-Iwuoha, a national key point is a restricted area in the drone regulations. “No drone may fly adjacent to or above these restricted areas unless they hold an operators’ certificate and have permission from the director of the SACAA.”
She explains that restricted areas for drone use include a nuclear power plant, prison or police station, crime scene, court of law, national key point, or strategic installation.
“Drones are known as remotely-piloted aircraft systems in South Africa. The regulations differ for those using a drone for private use – for personal enjoyment and without commercial gain – or for commercial use. In general, they cannot not fly more than 400 feet above the ground; cannot fly more than 500 meters away from the pilot; cannot fly closer than 10km from an aerodrome, this includes an airport; cannot fly closer than 50 metres from people, buildings, or a public road; and cannot fly any drone more than 7kg for private use and up to 20kg for commercial use.”
She adds private operators do not need a licence to operate a drone, or to register their drone but parts of the regulation still apply.
Failure to adhere to the applicable civil aviation regulations could result in a 10-year prison sentence, a fine of R50 000 or both.