RPAS training underway for SACAA inspectors


With just over two weeks before regulations governing the operation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) come into force, the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is training its first group of inspectors who will work in this environment.

There are currently five members of the SACAA’s personnel in the air safety operations division who have been selected to become the first RPAS inspectors in South Africa. They are undergoing training at Petit Airfield, east of OR Tambo International Airport, over a 10 day period.
“Training is provided by United States and United Kingdom based service providers,” SACAA’s Phindiwe Gwebu said, stressing the training was not instructors’ training “but rather training to ensure the inspectors and other SACAA personnel are properly trained to deliver on our mandate according to Part 101 (Air Safety Operations) of the Civil Aviation Regulations”.

The team leading the way in RPAS inspection have, according to Gwebu, “sufficient experience in managing manned aircraft and processing manned licence requirements”.
“It is an internal process and the SACAA does not wish to share the dates of the training of the names of staff members taking part. It is important to note SACAA employs a highly trained and qualified workforce and has a duty to ensure they meet the requirements to provide adequate oversight on any sector of the civil aviation industry,” she said.

The inspector training is in line with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) standards and recommended practices to comply with eight critical safety and security requirements.
“One of these is that inspectorates have to be trained according to an approved qualifications framework. This sets out the level and standard of training each inspector needs to have and includes recurrent training to keep them current in their area of specialty,” she said.

South Africa is one of the first countries worldwide to formulate regulations for the licencing and operation of RPAS. This was done in conjunction with the local unmanned aerial vehicle industry taking into account national safety and security needs.

As from July 1 people operating RPAs have to be in possession of a SACAA approved and valid remote pilot licence and a letter of approval to operate an RPA. To ensure accountability from providers and marketers of RPAS, sellers have to make purchasers aware of SACAA criteria. Proof of a remote pilot licence does not appear to be a prerequisite for the purchase of an RPAS.

As far as RPA operators (pilots) are concerned, SACAA chief executive Poppy Khoza said last month a valid remote pilot licence was a necessity, but she did not elaborate on licence acquisition details. Aviation industry sources said it could cost anything from R100 000 to R150 000 to obtain a RPA licence, similar to the cost of a private pilot’s licence.

She acknowledged the South African RPAS regulations were a first attempt at regulating this sector of aviation activity in the country.
“We are not claiming these regulations are static. Given the pace of technological development in this area we treat the RPAS regulation framework as a continual work in progress. We will continue to engage with industry to refine them when, where and as necessary.”