- A stunning drone image of protesters in Cape Town has caught the attention of aviation regulators.
- The image was taken over a national key point – and may have violated a NOTAM, which restricted flights over Parliament.
- According to the South African Civil Aviation Authority, flying the drone in this airspace could mean jail time or a R50,000 fine.
- Police could also charge the pilot under anti-terror laws.
- For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.
A stunning drone photograph of a protest against gender violence in Cape Town could land the pilot with jail time or a R50,000 fine.
The image was taken over Parliament, which is a national key point and a no-fly zone. The drone that took it may also have violated a formal notice (coded A3365/19 NOTAMNQ) that restricted any flying within a 1.82 kilometre radius of the Cape Town International Convention Centre last week, where several heads of state attended the World Economic Forum.
The image went viral shortly after being shared on Twitter and Instagram.
Flying in restricted airspace, and over groups of people, requires special clearance. Business Insider South Africa understands that the image has drawn the attention of the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), which regulates drones in South Africa, and could also be the subject of a police investigation.
The SACAA said it did not want to prematurely speculate whether the image was the result of illegal activity, but confirmed it was investigating.
Any commercial benefit from such a photo could also land the photographer in even more hot water as he would require a Remote Pilot Licence, said Sean Reitz, head of the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of South Africa (CUAASA) that represents commercial drone pilots.
But there is no direct way to charge someone with flying a drone unlawfully, Reitz said, which may mean criminal charges are brought under legislation intended to prevent acts of terrorism.
Drone pilots have long complained that the SACAA is not issuing pilot licences fast enough. With an application process that can take up to three years – and to date little by way of enforcement of regulations – only an estimated 1% of those who operate drones in South Africa are doing so legally.
Business Insider South Africa reached out to the presumed operator of the drone behind the image of protestors. By the time of publication he had not responded to questions including whether he is a licensed drone pilot, and if he was aware of the risks involved in flying the craft over a crowd.
See also: Serena Williams blasting a drone with a tennis ball provides an important lesson for armies around the world
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