Gauteng-based ProWings Training is the first flying school in South Africa to be approved by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) as a commercial remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) training organisation.
The authorisation was issued by the SACAA on Friday. ProWings chief executive Ian Melamed today said he and Michael Muller, the chief flight training instructor, have been inundated by people wanting to become accredited unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilots.
“I see the biggest challenge as a manned flight school that can now offer training on remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to develop remote pilots so they know they are commercial pilots and even further, to become aviators. This will ensure respect in the air for other airspace users,” he said adding the first stage, in the case of RPA pupils with no previous flying experience, was for them to spend three hours in the cockpit while in flight to “see the risks and understand the procedures and routines that have to be followed at all times”.
The approval makes South Africa the first country in the world to approve an RTO (remote training organisation) for commercial drone pilots, according to ProWings.
Muller said “a lot of extremely hard work over months” had been part and parcel of receiving the stamp of approval.
“Our training procedures manual (TPM) runs into hundreds of pages. Flight safety is a non-negotiable irrespective of what aircraft one is flying, wherever the pilot is, on the ground or in a cockpit,” he said echoing Melamed’s statement that “each and every student must have experienced the value of pilot control in a manned aircraft to be able to appreciate the joint responsibilities of using common airspace”.
The first batch of UAV/RPA pupil pilots will come from the ranks of current private pilot and commercial pilot licence holders with experience of piloting UAVs. Next in line for training and licensing, according to Muller, are experienced but unlicensed UAV pilots who are dependent on flying for a living.
Melamed and Muller are currently the only two SACAA approved RPA rated instructors in South Africa and this will “obviously” impact on the number of students who can be trained at any one time. They can teach students how to fly fixed wing, multirotor and helicopter RPAs.
Ground school courses will be done at Petit Aerodrome on the East Rand with skills tests to follow at the ProWings flight training centre in the Cradle of Humankind, west of Krugersdorp.
Since South Africa’s new RPA regulations were instituted on July 1 the SACAA has registered 118 RPAs, issued 10 remote pilot licences and received 10 applications for RPA training organisations. The Administration also received 27 Letter Of Approval (RLA) applications and issued two; is assessing a single maintenance technician (RMT) application, and received 72 operating certificate applications.
SACAA spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu on Friday said the SACAA was “proud” to approval the first UAV training school and was “satisfied with the progress made thus far in terms of regulating remotely piloted aircraft systems…We can confidently say that there has been tremendous progress since the introduction of the Part 101 regulations on 01 July 2015. To date we have received a considerable number of applications relating to RPAS.
“For all other applications, we are currently awaiting further technical documentation from prospective operators before issuing the final approvals. Because these requirements are new to industry, we do understand that meeting these requirements would take slightly longer than we would ordinarily expect.”
Gwebu said that regulatory compliance workshops have been held in five provinces thus far. Three more workshops are still to be held in Bloemfontein, Rustenburg and Polokwane. The primary aim of the workshops is to assist prospective applicants understand the new regulations and to provide vital additional information, particularly relating to safety.