“Is there anyone here without a licence? Anyone here without an ID card or book?” Pieter Niemand asks the serried ranks of attendees at DroneCon 2018 in Vodaworld, Midrand.
“Put up your hand,” he smiles. No one does.
“Is there anyone here who’s crashed their drone? Put up your hand.”
There’s a ripple of laughter.
“But we must pay your claims and you don’t have a licence?” Niemand muses.
“It’s a different world in manned aviation, if you don’t follow the regulations you don’t get a PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence).
“When all the tech jargon is done and dusted, after all the acronyms, someone will have to pay for your losses.
“What are you going to do when a drone flies into your child?” he asks. “You might know civil law, you might even think you know short term insurance law, but this is aviation law. If you are in a drone accident, the SACAA [South African Civil Aviation Authority] will investigate it, not the SAPS [South African Police Service].”
Niemand is a specialist insurer with decades of experience in both aviation and insurance. His company Oakhust has divided the drone market up into professional users, semi-professional users and recreational users, but it’s the latter that are the most worrying for him.
“The manufacturers are telling us that their devices are safe, but it’s the operators that aren’t. In aviation, we always used to say attitude not aptitude determines altitude.
“We want the operators to go to ATC (Air Traffic Control) to contact the municipality when they fly because the moment the drone starts flying the people will phone them to find out what’s happening.
“If you’re flying among people, we want you to have approval from either event organisers or the SACAA,” he says, “and we want you to carry a full-first aid kit bag and a fire extinguisher because if the drone falls, you’re going to be the first on the scene in any case.”
Insurance, he explains is about mitigating risk. The more risk the operator carries, by protecting himself, by thinking of as much as possible beforehand and the less risk the insurer has to carry, the cheaper the premiums.
They insure hulls, but none older than three years. The minimum cover is R10 000, the maximum R2 million, third party liability of R2.5 million to R5-million and up to R250 000 for each accessory.
“Regulations, safety and liabilities, that’s what it’s all about. I have 6 000 hours in an aircraft, I know what it feels like when a Boeing 747 flies past and pushes you around the sky. Embrace the rules and the regulations.”