• John Woodman

What is a Commercial Drone Operator?

Hello again from John at UAV Inspection. In this edition of our blog, I wanted to give a brief introduction to the commercial aviation part of the drone industry.


Very important for a drone company in the drone industry, we don’t fly drones. We operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, or RPAS. Some parts of the world use Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, but RPAS is the designation from the International Civil Aviation Organization.


For a company to operate RPAS for commercial gain, the company must hold an ROC. An ROC is an RPAS Operator Certificate. This is issued by the South African Civil Aviation Authority and must be renewed annually.


The Civil Aviation Authority, or CAA, uses a five-phase process for all new ROC applications. I’ll give you the TL;DR version. Here is a link to the CAA page with all the information.


Phase one consists of submitting an official letter of intent, kick off meetings, purchase and register aircraft, appoint persons to the six required positions, and application for an Air Service Licence.


In phase two, the operator attends the Air Service Council meeting to formally submit an application for the Air Service Licence and has a formal application meeting with the CAA. The CAA will review the applicant’s documentation and accept or reject their application.


Phase three is where the real work happens. The applicant must submit an RPAS Operating Manual, which is the one and only approved manual for the company to follow. Any changes or revisions must be approved by the CAA. Phase three also covers additional requirements for the aircraft, known as RPAS Letter of Approval. Each individual aircraft must have an RLA, and it is renewed annually.


Once the ROM has been approved, we then move to phase four which is the demonstration phase. The company must demonstrate that they understand and comply with all relevant regulations and demonstrate the various flight regimes that they want to use commercially.


Assuming that the demonstration went well, the company enters the final phase. This phase covers a formal completion audit, and the issuing of the ROC and the attached Operations Specification or Ops Spec.


The Ops Spec covers the specific permissions and limitations of the operator. So, if your operator says they can’t fly at night, that’s because it’s not approved on the Ops Spec. The Ops Spec does not expire, as long as the ROC is valid.


Quite an involved process, isn’t it?


If you are looking at using a drone company, make sure they have all the right paperwork in place and up to date. Or you can call UAV Inspection,


Till next time,


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