Certification and licensing

Basic requirements and procedures

What certificates or licences are required to operate drones and what procedures apply?

In the case of commercial, corporate and non-profit operations, the following documents are required: a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) letter of approval (RLA) issued by the director; a certificate of registration for each RPAS; an RPAS operating certificate; and in the case of commercial operations, an air services licence.

The procedure to obtain the relevant licences is by way of an application to the director of Civil Aviation together with the payment of a fee. The application must be accompanied by (1) a copy of the certificate of registration of each remotely piloted aircraft to be operated; (2) a copy of the RLA for each device to be operated; and (3) for an initial issue, an original operations manual containing the information required to demonstrate how the operator would ensure compliance with the regulations and safety standards; and a maintenance programme in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, whether through action or inspection.

The holder of an RPAS operator's certificate (ROC) must also conduct background checks on all personnel employed to handle, deploy or store the RPAS.

Taxes and fees

Are certification and licensing procedures subject to any taxes or fees?

The fee payable for the issuance of an RPAS operating certificate is 4,480 rand and for each additional aircraft in the ROC, 890 rand.

For the registration of a remotely piloted aircraft a fee of 850 rand is payable and for aviation personnel standards, a fee of 700 rand is payable for the issuing of a remote pilot licence (RPL).


Who may apply for certifications and licences? Do any restrictions apply?

The operator of an RPAS must be the holder of a valid ROC, including the operations specifications attached to it. RPASs must be operated by duly qualified and licensed pilots who can be any person over the age of 18 who has the relevant medical certificate and has completed a theoretical examination as well as skills tests and flight training from a training facility authorised by the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

Save for the above, there are no restrictions on the applicants as regards nationality of ownership, although in the case of commercial operations a domestic air service licence from the Air Service Licensing Council must be obtained and will be issued where:

  • the applicant is a natural person, a resident of the Republic; or
  • if the applicant is not a natural person:
    • is incorporated in the Republic and at least 75 per cent of the voting rights in respect of such person is held by residents of the Republic, and that such will be actively and effectively in control of the air service; and
    • the RPAS that will be used in operating the air service is a South African aircraft.
Remote pilot licences

Must remote pilots obtain any certifications or licences to operate drones? If so, do the relevant procedures differ based on the type of drone or operation?

Pilots must be in possession of an RPL issued in the relevant category except when undergoing a skill test or receiving flight instruction.

To qualify for an RPL applicants must:

  • not be less than 18 years of age;
  • hold at least a valid Class IV medical certificate for BVLOS operations or operations involving RPASs classified as Class 3 or higher; or for all other classes or types of operation, submit a self-declared medical assessment report provided that an applicant who cannot meet the requirements of the medical assessment must submit a Class 4 medical certificate; and
  • hold at least a restricted certificate of proficiency in radiotelephony (aeronautical); and where required, have completed the flight training and have passed the theoretical knowledge examination; and, finally, have passed a skills test.
Foreign operators

Are foreign operators authorised to fly drones in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements and restrictions apply?

Foreign operators that wish to conduct commercial operations must also apply for and hold a domestic air services licence issued under the terms of the Air Services Licensing Act.

Certificate of airworthiness

Is a certificate of airworthiness required to operate drones? If so, what procedures apply?

A certificate of airworthiness is not required, but the RPAS must be compliant with the manufacturer’s instructions for equipment maintenance through actions or inspections, and the owner must submit a maintenance programme for the RPAS to the director of Civil Aviation for approval.

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