Under increasing inquiries from a growing and anxious number of recreational and commercial drone interested parties, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) confirmed to this writer recently that they are at an advanced stage in developing regulations for this technology to cover the Zimbabwean territory.
In a wide ranging discussion with their licensing department senior staff, I was informed that CAAZ has of late been dealing with an increasing number of queries from individuals and corporate organisations angling to launch this technology in Zimbabwean airspace on both private and commercial basis.
Drones, known technically as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), have apparently began making a mark in the southern Africa region, particularly South Africa which recently announced the coming into force of its regulations. On the 17th of May 2015 SA CAA director Poppy Khoza announced on TV that South Africa will now be regulating drone technology which previously was considered illegal. South Africa went further by making a decision to bake the regulations into the existing Civil Aviation Act. In two months time, these regulations will not be mere rules but law.
Armed with background information about the challenges and fears of governments around the world to do with the rapid emergence of drone technology, I sought to understand in some measure of depth how our own authorities view and embrace this technology. As any student of national security would realize, drone technology is no pushover. This, CAAZ officials made apparent.
In as much as the Ministry of Transport is the overarching government administration arm responsible for CAAZ, I gathered that key arms of state security such as the Ministry of Defense are also playing a role in the development of these regulations which, I was informed, are no more than two months away. At this rate the implication is that by early August 2015 we could expect some form of official and public announcement on the matter.
As an avid aviation enthusiast for may years, I found myself within CAAZ corridors in an effort to be on the favorable side of the law as I worked on finalizing my own importation of a fairly advanced drone for private use. As it stands, CAAZ is fully aware that some individuals have been importing this equipment into the country for sometime. In fact, they are aware people are getting these quad-copters airborne within the country’s airspace. Like me, they dreaded the complications that would arise should things go wrong while operating this technology.
In the absence of any regulatory framework, as far as I know and was made to understand, there has not been any attempts by CAAZ to balk importation moves by private citizens who have a right to do so. Pressing the staffers on whether I should still go ahead to import before the regulations are out, it would appear there was indirect advice to rather wait for the regulations to be propagated. As I walked away from their office I took it as if some pointer to the possibility of the regulations themselves extending as far as the type and equipment capability or at least who and in what capacity can use what type of drone equipment or technology.
This should not be surprising. As many discovered in the South African case, by the time regulations were announced the SA CAA terminology had been recast from UAV or UAS to RPAS meaning Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. This is significant. CAAZ officials noted that their own regulations may not fall far away from the South African rules. In fact, it is far possible that in the end SADC as a region will have more or less similar rules.
The significance of the matter is in that as seen in the South African case, classification such as RPAS points to some requirement for drone pilots to receive mandatory training relating to type of equipment operated and how it is to operated. As we speak there is a silent stampede on South African soil involving both new comers and traditional flight training schools to become drone pilot trainers. This is something we may soon witness in Zimbabwe depending on what the coming regulations prescribe.
Only time will tell if CAAZ regulations will require the same. However, the capabilities presented by drone technology inevitably call for order. Aviation is a sector that has for so long thrived on and sought to preserve order. It is hard to see any breakaway from this paragon.
I suspect that the coming CAAZ regulations, in keeping with international norms and standards, are likely to cover such areas as equipment registration, areas of operation such as how far to fly from sensitive buildings and areas such as crime scenes, airports, police stations, prisons, parliament, state houses, private homes and public areas among other numerous requirements.
In the end CAAZ officials acknowledged together with me that this is an area that is moving and changing extremely fast and any regulations are likely to be revisited as they are put to test and governments learn and get to grips with what this technology is and is not all about.
Aurther Shoko is a technology and aviation enthusiast who writes from Harare and keeps a tab as much as possible on international and regional aviation developments. He has previously written a popular eBook on becoming a qualified pilot in Zimbabwe.