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Drone License – who needs it?

When you need a “drone license”?

Drone License is officially called Remote Pilot License (RPL). It is a document (or one of them, but that depends on location) that allows drone pilots to fly commercially within part 107/ 107 aviation laws. It has limited purpose, if you only intend to fly within hobby rules (although knowledge of the rules is always useful), although in some locations there are restrictions as to what drone you can fly without a license.

But what does it mean? Law describes this as any activity where commercial gain achieved either via direct or indirect activities. This is far from being clear as well, however based on few developments in various locations of the world, the following transpired:

  1. Any paid services done for others done using drone while flying in air space. Logically, this excludes flying indoors with landlord’s permission, such as in warehouses, storage tanks and fly-throughs unless part of flight is outside.
  2. Commercial activity includes any monetization of YouTube, TikTok and any social media platforms.
  3. “Valuable consideration” – as in where video or work is used to attract customers or promote business.

While the first two are clear, the “valuable consideration” remains unclear. Where do you draw the line? In fact, there is no clear line. So far not many people worldwide has been taken to court JUST for making money on flying drones (none in South Africa) and where they have been taken to court, the cases were on their own merits.

photo of man wearing black clothing

What if you don’t have it?

Most court cases in USA had to do with negligence, property invasion, privacy or other sort of violations (such as air space and flying conditions violation, in which one of the pilots raked up a fine of over 180 000 USD).

This is perhaps because it is so easy to obtain p. 107 license (it costs about 150-200 USD to get yourself trained, certified and up in the air making money) that most pilot actually comply.

In one of the rulings, it was decided that it is in fact legal to sell existing footage as long as the footage was originally obtained without commercial gain in mind. So it is in fact all about intention (and what can be proven in court).

What else do you need?

One way or another, RPL may not be the only thing that is needed, and in South Africa getting RPL is only one small step towards the full compliance process.

In order to fly here commercially, one needs ROC (Remote Operator’s Certificate). ROC process is lengthy and expensive. In involves RPL, registration of the drone (possibly RLA of the drone), filing application that states all details of the operations, obtaining radio and some other safety equipment.

Altogether it will cost approx. 200-250 000 ZAR (I would LOVE to get corrected on this one – if there are any new developments in SA on this front, please, let me know). ROC is only valid for a year.

If you do not want to obtain own ROC, another option is to work as a pilot for one of the existing ROC holders (and salaries are very low here), or to pay monthly fee to ROC holder for the privilege of using their ROC…

2 thoughts on “Drone License – who needs it?

  1. So in a nutshell, only get a RPL and all the other stuff if you really need it otherwise it’s best to know where to fly and no fly🤷🏾‍♂️

    1. Yep, that is correct 🙂

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