Can I use a drone for taking photos?

14 December 2021 980
“I’m a wedding photographer and have started using a drone to add an additional element to my wedding photography. One of my clients however asked whether I’m allowed to fly a drone and take photos as they don’t want to get in trouble if they use me for the wedding. I thought it was ok, but now I’m not sure. Can I use a drone for taking photos and videos?”

As always, the answer is not black and white. Yes, you can use a drone, but there are conditions. The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) through Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Regulations governs the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) such as drones. 

These amended regulations were introduced in 2015 and the regulations include the following limitations for private drone use:

  • A drone may not be flown within 10km of an aerodome
  • The drone may not weigh more than 7kgs
  • Drones may not be flown within 50 meters of people or any structure or building, unless there is specific permission to fly over the property
  • Drones must be flown in the line of sight of the operator, unless operated by the holder of an RPAS Operators Certificate (ROC).
  • Drones may only be flown during the day
Once a person wishes to operate a drone for commercial use such as public photography, such a person would be required to obtain a ROC. A ROC is issued by the SACAA and is valid for 12 months. The holder of a ROC is allowed, with permission from the director of the SACAA, to operate the drone at night or within the 50-meter distance from people or property. 

The holder of a ROC is however required to have adequate third-party insurance cover in place, to address instances of damage arising from the use of the drone. Imagine a sudden power failure or bird strike causing the drone to fall on a person or property. Drones also need to be operated in good weather conditions and the operator should not operate a drone negligently or recklessly. 

You may therefore operate a drone to take pictures or videos at a wedding and as this is commercial use, it is advisable that you obtain a ROC and comply with the regulations. And also remember, irrespective of the nature of your use of a drone, you should avoid trespassing or invading the privacy of others or taking photo or video footage without the necessary consents, as this could also get you into hot water. If you plan on using a drone on a regular basis, it may therefore be worthwhile to reach out to your attorney to help you get the necessary in place to lawfully and correctly do so.
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