Remotely piloted aircraft systems: do new South Africa regulations facilitate mining?

Posted in Mining Southern Africa

A look at the benefits of RPAs on mining processes.

In July 2015, the South African Government introduced regulations governing the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAs). Three months after the implementation of these regulations it is unclear whether these have rendered the operation of RPAs any simpler or more accessible.  Several businesses feel that improvements are still needed. 


 The applications of RPAs in industry are extensive and include commercial, mining and agricultural uses.  RPAs are particularly useful in the mining industry where surveillance is rendered more efficient and less costly by using RPAs to replace helicopters, which are notoriously expensive to operate and maintain.  

These regulations provide mining companies with an opportunity to reduce their costs and become more competitive in a sector where margins are becoming increasingly slim.  

Compliance and challenges 

An RPA may only be operated by a mining company if the operator possesses a Remote Pilot License, an RPA Operator Certificate, a certificate of RPA registration and an RPA letter of approval.  The process involved in obtaining these authorisations has proven to be lengthy and administratively burdensome. 

RPAs represent a new component of the civil aviation framework, which the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is actively improving and promoting in order to better its implementation.  Understandably there are some teething problems in the regulations that need to be addressed.  Some of the concerns raised by businesses wishing to operate RPAs include: 

  • the bureaucratic and multi-layered regulatory application process
  • the current difficulty in training RPA pilots in South Africa as training schools have as yet been established
  • the lack of properly qualified flight instructors who will be able to assist with the tests
  • the license only being granted for a specific operation. In the event that an operator wants to perform a different operation, the operator will have to submit to an additional test with the SACAA.  This would result in an unnecessary administrative and financial burden being placed on all operators.
 The outcome

The benefits of RPAs are becoming increasingly evident. It is imperative that the regulations are continuously improved to ensure that these developments in the field of RPAs continue unimpeded and permit mining companies to make full use of this diverse technology.


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