South Africa’s first drone conference came to Johannesburg this June.  It wasn’t for the hobbyist and enthusiast, but for people in the business of drones.  As that is us, the AerialShots team attended.

The predominant theme that came out of the 3 days of talks was that drones are here to stay – in a big way! Drones – in all their different shapes, sizes and attachments –  can be used in almost every facet of life.  Up until now, it has mostly been used in the creative fields, such as film, photography and cinematography.  But these machines, along with data-analysing software, are making huge strides in refining agriculture practises, improving maintenance on large constructions, and assisting in urban and wildlife security.  Drone racing has even become a sport and, although it does not have a huge spectator following yet, large international brands are already sponsoring the existing leagues.  This is an acknowledgement that it will be a major sport in the near future.  In a few years from now, you may even find yourself catching a drone taxi – the development of this technology is accelerating that quickly.  And it will just keep growing.

As exciting as all this is, there remains a major hindrance for the advancement of the drone industry in South Africa: our regulations.  Our laws regulating drone use are the most stringent in the world. Although regulations are necessary (we don’t want spy-cams flying around or drones crashing on our heads because people don’t know how to fly them) the current process will throttle the development of drone-related businesses in South Africa. 

There are far too many licences that a company needs to obtain, the regulatory authority granting these licences is currently backlogged by years, and the procedures that need to be carried out for every flight requires a disproportional number of hours of work.  Moreover, it is a process that will work for large companies, but will make it impossible for entrepreneurs, start-ups and small companies to operate.  Currently, most drone operators in South Africa fall into the last category.

Although it was a great education into the future of drones, the conference followed the same vein as the regulations: it promoted and represented the large companies and forgot about an important player in the drone industry – the small guys.  It will be interesting to see what topics Drone Con 2018 decides to engage with.  But if it doesn’t become more representative of the whole of the drone industry in this country, then the small drone operators will need to band together and take on the challenges specific to them, without the support of the handful of larger drone companies in South Africa.

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