Police flip-flops on UAVs

ITWeb reports the South African Police Service is adamant it will purchase unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance purposes during the 2010 Fifa World Cup tournament.
This comes after the police earlier stated they would opt for helicopters instead.
Late last year, the police said it was looking to purchase 10 UAVs, one per 2010 stadium, to conduct crowd management duties. The UAVs would form part of the police’s R650 million procurement drive for 2010 and beyond, which also included water cannons, mobile command centres and bullet-proof vests.
Speaking to ITWeb three weeks ago, police national planning committee spokesman Senior Superintendent Vish Naidoo said the police would instead purchase six Robinson Raven II R44 helicopters, worth more than R30 million.
Naidoo’s superior has since dismissed that statement, saying the police are still window-shopping for UAVs. Police communications director Sally de Beer says the police are in the process of evaluating what UAVs are available and plan to make the procurements by the end of 2009.
De Beer would not say which companies have been approached to demonstrate their UAVs, but earlier media reports listed Advanced Technologies and Engineering, Denel Dynamics and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as potential suppliers. However, an official tender has not been issued.
De Beer explains the UAVs will be used on match days to check areas surrounding stadiums, monitor how many people are on their way into the stadiums, traffic conditions, and crime prevention and surveillance over fan parks and public viewing areas.
“Beyond 2010, they will be used for crime prevention and for other major events,” she adds. “The UAV will predominantly be used where there is a gathering or movement of people during 2010.”
Yet many pundits in the UAV space said the police would not be able to use UAVs in civilian areas due to the Civil Aviation Act, which prohibits this. Meraka Institute project leader Lloyd Munday explained that since the UAVs’ payload could fall onto unsuspecting civilians, this has deemed them too dangerous to operate in public areas.
However, the police believe that by the time they purchase the UAVs, the use of the unmanned aircraft will be legal.
“As I understand it, the South African Civil Aviation Authority has a draft policy in place on UAVs and we will have to make an application to the working committee to use the UAVs. We are aware of all necessary processes and safety precautions and will follow such efficiently,” says De Beer.
Andy Mamba, the Civil Aviation Authority’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manager, earlier said UAS have predominantly been used in the military domain and so they did not comply with the civil airworthiness codes.
“This, therefore, means UAS may not be legally deployed in civil airspace.”
Mamba said the UAS standards working group was established by South African Civil Aviation Authority to address the issue of UAVs in civilian airspace. Yet, despite the working group’s intentions to make UAS civilian-friendly, Mamba believes it “is going to take a long time”.