Sourced from IOL Cape Times
Recreational drone operators have been advised that they must be trained or they could risk liability claims.
As drones have fast become a common phenomenon, not only as tools in commercial fields but as a hobby, South Africa’s regulations on drone operation have had significant licensing cost implications for businesses. Consumers may also be at the highest risk for financial loss.
This according to Johannes du Plessis, legal adviser at Risk Benefit Solutions insurance brokers who explained that insuring commercial drone operators against liability is easier than providing cover for private operators.
“The legal regulations formulated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) require a pilot operating drones for reward to be trained by a flight school if the flight will reach certain heights and distances.
“The training is important here since the drone pilot officially learns the legal restrictions of flying the drone, needs to display competence in operating the equipment, and is required to pass a health examination,” Du Plessis said.
As a result of such training, insuring against the loss of a commercial drone under a drone insurance policy, and insuring a pilot against any liability for damages or injury under such policy, is relatively simple, since most of the risk management controls are already in place.
“The result of this is also that the number of incidents among trained drone operators is lower than that of untrained drone operators,” he said.
Many insurers are only prepared to offer very limited cover to recreational drone users.
“These policies do not cover loss or damage while the drone is in use, and pilot liability is also excluded. This puts them at an increased personal risk of exposure,” Du Plessis stressed.
He indicated that although recreational operators are under no obligation to undergo training, the number of incidents among recreational operators is very high.
“Training at an accredited aviation school costs around R12 000 a person, which often dissuades recreational pilots.While there are no legal requirements for recreational drone pilots to undergo training, becoming trained and commercially licensed puts the pilot in a position to obtain full cover. Cover would in this case include liability, minimising their personal exposure,” Du Plessis emphasised.
According to Du Plessis, the risks for untrained recreational users are much higher than they might comprehend.
“While drones can cause significant injury if they collide with individuals, a drone is also capable of causing much more harm.
“A drone that loses control and veers on to a motorway, for example, has the potential to cause not only damage to property including motor vehicles, but also injuries and deaths,” Du Plessis said.
He also stressed that it is important to keep in mind that the number of drone incidents involved in near misses with passenger jets increases year to year, representing a growing risk of loss of life.
“Untrained and uninsured drone pilots therefore not only open themselves up to millions of rand in civil liabilities resulting from injuries, deaths, and damage to property, but also to criminal liability for injuries and deaths, and damage to property,” he warned.
Du Plessis argued that recreational drone pilots should seriously consider training at an accredited aviation school, increasing their chances of being insurable. “Training may be expensive compared to the cost of a toy drone, but the risk of not being insured far outweighs any cost implications to a recreational drone pilot in this case,” Du Plessis concluded.