By Khulile Thwala
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as drones, have become increasingly popular over the years, even in Eswatini.
Originally developed through the 20th century for military missions too ‘dull, dirty or dangerous’ for humans, by the 21st, they had become essential assets to most militaries.
As control technologies improved and costs fell, their use has expanded to other non-military applications, including aerial photography, agriculture, forest fire monitoring, river monitoring, environmental monitoring, policing and surveillance, infrastructure inspections, smuggling, product deliveries, entertainment, and drone racing.
In Eswatini there are currently no certification standards approved by Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority (ESWACAA) for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)/UAV/Drones.
While there are local and international activities to develop certification standards for these, temporary compliance alternatives are being used.
Without approved certification standards, an applicant must submit a risk assessment to ESWACAA, which is the current agency responsible for drone safety.
In addition, the overall operation specifications should be submitted for each drone to be issued with a drone letter of approval before it is operated. Additionally, no drone will be approved by ESWACAA to carry firearms or dangerous Goods.
Eswatini is in the early stages, especially regarding legislation on UAVs. Currently, only rules for drones below a minimum of 1.5 kilogrammes can be found.
A drone user requires a letter of Approval from the Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority for having such drones in possession. In addition, to bring your drone into the country, an import licence from ESWACAA should be obtained.
Company requirements for operating drones include Aircraft Operating Certificate, Operation Specifications, Insurance that must cover the activity to be conducted and Risk Assessment.
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If a foreigner is travelling to Eswatini and wants to bring their drone, ESWACAA lists certain special considerations for foreigners who wish to fly drones, which include how one must obtain an import licence from ESWACAA before entering the country with a drone. Foreigners are also mandated to obtain a letter of Approval from ESWACAA to fly a drone for any purpose in Eswatini.
Recently, Taiwan drone company Geosat Aerospace and Technology Inc. presented the various services they offer during the company director Dr Zheng-Fang Luo’s trip to the country as per agreement with the Taiwan Government. Geosat had plans to establish a manufacturing site at the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP).
Dr Luo had also previously engaged His Majesty King Mswati III, where he presented to the King on the specialities of Geosat during the King’s business trip to Taiwan in October 2022