In the past three years enquiries for drone footage and what some call ‘aerial photography’ has surged massively. Currently Baithe Photography does offer drone footage but, it’s a little complicated due to it being a heavily regulated industry. If you would like to understand why, then carry on reading – and also educate yourself regarding the current South African laws around it.
Hugely important note: anything that is written here is based on my research at the time of wriring and therefore you would do well to do the research yourself if you are thinking of 1) buying a drone, 2) using a drone, 3) hiring someone to fly a drone. Large fines and prison sentences have been and will continue to be used to threaten those who do not comply with South Africa’s drone laws.
Commercial Drone Photography
The first thing you need to know is that there is a marked difference between flying a drone as a hobbyist, and flying it for commercial gain. The second comes with far stricter rules, and will cost you a lot more money. A hobbyist can “get away” with learning on their own, and ideally testing their skills on some far flung farm out in the Karoo.
Those aiming to “go commercial” will need an RPL (Remote Pilots License) – which will set you back about R16,000 to R25,000 depending. Secondly, you need a huge document drawn up by lawyers called an ROC (Remote Operator Certificate) that sets out all manner of legal things so you are allowed to fly. Apparently it is a manual that is as thick as those old Yellow Pages books (likely an exaggeration) which I’d imagine is largely to protect you in case something goes horribly wrong. This is (and this is based on the last quote I got) going to set you back about R200,000. Yes, you read that correctly, five “zeros”. I will update this if things change.
South African Regulations
The second reason you need to be wary of flying a drone is that there are so, so many things preventing you from flying someplace you would want to. Let’s take Cape Town as an example. You may not fly within 15km of any airport. Cape Town Airport, Ysterplaat, Stellenbosch Airport (surprise, yes, there is one there!), and any others. So that is Milnerton, Mowbray, the CBD, Pinelands and many other areas immediately off the books. Then, any helipad you need to do a similar thing. Where do you find helipads…? Hospitals, government buildings, rich people’s playgrounds etc.
Added to this, you may not fly over any nature reserve. Cape Point, West Coast National Park, the whole of Table Mountain. So, you think “I want to fly over that beautiful scene”, well unfortunately it is likely to be protected. I can carry on, but prisons, power plants, national key points etc are all banned. And rightly so. See some more evidence here. The idea being: get ready to drive an hour out of the city; you will find it really hard to fly a drone in them. And I am glad, the thought of a drone pilot flying their rotating blades into someone’s eyeball is not pleasant.
People needed to fly the drone
Probably the biggest barrier to me, and hopefully all those who want to do things legally, is the sheer manpower in flying drones ethically. You need one person to man a two-way radio – they can then talk to a potential helicopter pilot coming into your airspace. You need the second person to fly the drone – no surprises there. You need a third person to operate the camera on the drone – though I can see how in many instances this could be avoided with camera tech being so advanced. And you need a fourth person standing by to do medical aid, and having a fire extinguisher. That is a lot of people and therefore a lot of time, money, and effort! I am 99% sure most commercial operators don’t do all of these but hey, I am not there and who knows, perhaps they are.
Currently there are tonnes of reasons not to get into drone photography in South Africa. For other countries it may be easier – Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius… I really don’t know offhand, and it may change, too – but here it’s not worth it for me. Yet. So, personally, I don’t own a drone, or fly one, or plan to.
However, because so many people are requesting it, I took the time to find drone pilots, and so I refer people to them at present. The onus is on them to get both the RPL, and the ROC, and adhere to all the laws – something they do in their own capacity. Currently I know of four drone pilots, and this fluctuates now and then, so let me know if you’d like me to connect you to them.
Lastly, I find South Africans looooove to complain about corruption, and government, and such things and yet they often break the law themselves. Don’t be one of those people. Do the right thing, pay for a service that costs a lot of money for the drone pilot to qualify for, and make our country a better place.
Answers to Typically Asked Questions
Save us both some time by reading through these typical questions. You will thank us later when you’ve managed to prepare your property better thanks to our advice.