Cape Town wants to use drones to combat crime – here’s how it would work

Business Insider SA
Jay Caboz
Insert drone here in 1 year? Photo Jay Caboz
  • The City of Cape Town wants to use drones to help with everything from policing to inspecting bridges.
  • It has spent R500,000 on drones so far and trained a team six pilots.
  • Now it just needs the right to fly.
  • For more stories, go to

The City of Cape Town has trained six drone pilots and purchased a number of drones to help with everything from policing to inspecting bridges.

The City is now in the final stages of obtaining licences from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) to operate drones in the city, says JP Smith, City of Cape Town safety and security mayoral committee member.

He hopes that the drones could be in the air within the next year.

See also: Emergency blood could soon be transported by drone in South Africa

Speaking to Business Insider South Africa, Smith said that over the past five years, the City has worked with various departments to see which parts of the city management could benefit from drones.

Recently, as a trial, a drone was used successfully during a police raid, he said. The drone was able to find a man hiding behind two vehicles. The drone pilot alerted the police, and the suspect was apprehended.

Cape Town wants to use the drones for surveillance across several key hot spots around the city, such as a horticultural area in Philippi, where many incidents of cable theft have been reported.

Other planned uses for the drones in Cape Town: 

  • Inspecting firebreaks in non-accessible areas.
  • Searching for blocked waterways and canals that are hard to get to.
  • Inspecting pylons and bridges.
  • Providing information on traffic accidents.
  • Adding live intelligence during police during raids.
  • Increasing security in informal settlements.
  • Gathering data during emergencies such as veld fires and flooding.

Cape Town has already spent more than R500,000 on drones so far, and a team of six trained pilots has been assembled.

According to Smith, drones offer a large cost benefit, being much cheaper than hiring helicopters.

But the city can only get the drones in the air after a formal application with the SACAA, a process which Smith hopes with be completed within 6 to 12 months.

According to the Commercial Unmanned Aviation Association of South Africa (CUAASA), a body representing drone companies, it can take as long as 18 to 24 months for a drone application to be approved. There is currently a backlog of 400 applications, according to CUAASA. It says delays in approving applications is costing the industry 46,000 jobs and R4 billion in potential revenue. 

"Drones must go through the same certification as other air-based mechanisms like helicopters, planes or hot air balloons," says Kabelo Ledwaba, SACAA spokesperson. "[Drones] need to be integrated into the existing and highly-organised manned aviation sector in a manner that does not pose a risk to other airspace users or property or people on the ground."

The City of Cape Town will have to work closely with SACAA; many crime hotspots around Cape Town fall into restricted zones near Cape Town International Airport. According to SACAA rules, drones can't come closer than 10 kilometres of an airport without specific permission.

The Western Cape government made a video about basic drone rules and regulations:

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