The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as UAS (unmanned aerial systems), in both the military and civil aviation environment does not present insurmountable problems according to the South African Air Force’s Senior Staff Officer: Air Certification.
Writing in the SA Air Force (SAAF) publication, Ad Astra, Lieutenant Colonel Andre Meredith points out there is a process in place for military UAS operating in military airspace.
“The applicant or operator submits the request to the Air Force Command Post (AFCP) and the flight is controlled through the issuing of a special technical clearance by DSI (Directorate System Integrity) which covers the technical airworthiness approval.
“The flight is performed under control of military air traffic controllers (ATC), radar coverage and air traffic services (ATS) provided by military authorities in the military segregated airspace. This takes care of the operational airworthiness aspects. A military type certified UAS will not require additional technical airworthiness oversight by DSI, unless the nature of the operation falls outside the technical approvals scope,” he stated.
He uses the term UAS as “one of the best”. The Free Dictionary states that a UAS is a powered aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable and can carry a lethal or non-lethal payload. Ballistic or semi-ballistic vehicles, cruise missiles and artillery projectiles are not considered UASs. The dictionary goes on to state a UAS can also be called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Meredith points out the current lack of standardised DSA (detect sense and automatically avoid) equipment and associated rules creates “an unfavourable scenario when mixing manned and unmanned aircraft in the same airspace”.
“At present there are no regulations and no policies (Rules of the Air) controlling the operation of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace. This is a worldwide issue and is not isolated to South Africa.
“Until such time as authorities have put in place the required policies and regulations, the current procedures requires operators of unmanned systems to apply for a special flight permit prior to each and every flight if the flight is to take place in civil airspace.
“The operator is required to submit precise details of the nature of the flight, including location, flight path, required times, dates, duration, altitude, range and tasks. The SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) temporarily closes (segregates) the specific portion of the national airspace for the times and dates applied for and issues a flight permit containing all restrictions and limitations. A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) is also issued to warn other airspace users of the situation.”
Overall Meredith sees the development, agreement on and promulgation of formal Rules of the Air for Unmanned Systems as obviating the need for operators to apply to regulatory authorities such as the CAA for special clearance.
“The process to ensure technical airworthiness is well documented and, if followed correctly, will yield an air system in compliance with airworthiness, safety and technical design standards,” he said.