PRETORIA: The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has issued the first pilot's licence for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).
In a statement on Sunday, the licence was issued on 10 July 2015, to Nicole Swart, making her the first person to receive such a licence in South Africa, the continent, and most parts of the world as many countries are still striving to come up with regulations to administer RPAS.
RPAS are aircrafts that can fly without a pilot on board and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. RPAS can be controlled remotely by an individual on the ground or from another aircraft. Traditionally, remotely piloted aircraft systems were used primarily in military operations; however, they can also be used for many other purposes outside of the military.
Swart was handed the licence by the director of Civil Aviation, Poppy Khoza, two weeks after remotely piloted aircraft systems were integrated into the South African civil aviation airspace, following the introduction of relevant regulations on 1 July 2015.
According to SACAA, Swart is also a holder of the highest pilot's licence, which is the Airline Transport Pilot's Licence (ATPL). When not flying remotely piloted aircraft or a traditional manned aircraft, the 23-year-old works as a testing standards officer, aviation personnel standards at the SACAA.
"I am thrilled by the honour to be one of the pioneers in this field; but most importantly I am very happy that I have achieved another goal that I have set myself," she said.
Transforming the aviation industry
According to Khoza, the issuing of the RPAS pilot's licence to Swart augurs well in getting the youth to join the aviation industry, as well as transforming the industry. "It is also critical that women and historically disadvantaged individuals consider careers in aviation as the current statistics relating to previously disadvantaged persons are still at miniscule levels with pilots, in particular, constituting 8% of total licensed personnel."
Khoza said that the SACAA is also looking forward to issuing the first RPAS operating licence for commercial activities, adding that the number of applications received for commercial operations was far less than anticipated.
South Africa is one of a handful of countries around the world to have introduced comprehensive regulations to guide RPAS operations.
SACAA is an agency of the Department of Transport.