Almost 10% of drones in South Africa are destroyed on their first flight – and most crashes are due to simple pilot errors | News24 (2023)

This article forms part of the archives of Business Insider South Africa, which was published as a partnership between News24 and Insider Inc between 2018 and 2023.

Almost 10% of drones in South Africa are destroyed on their first flight – and most crashes are due to simple pilot errors | News24 (1)

(Greg Clarke/Flickr)

  • Around 10% of drones that take to the air in South Africa are destroyed on their first flight, judging by repair numbers.
  • Many crashes are due to simple errors by pilots.
  • More insurance companies will now cover drones, but it will cost you.

About one in ten rookie drone pilots are destroying their craft on the very first flight, numbers from a repair specialist suggest –and many are doing so in stupid and preventable ways, while not being covered by insurance.

By current best estimates there are now between 40,000 and 50,000 drones in South Africa, as entry-level prices continue to drop. Almost all those drones are flown by amateurs; there are just 663 Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems in the country, according to the 2018 State of the Drone Report.

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It’s not a legal requirement for hobby drone pilots to obtain licenses, but it can help to reduce the number of costly crashes. And as Business Insider South Africa discovered in 2018, many insurance companies are unwilling to cover these.

Unskilled part-time pilots, the high cost of repairs, the equipment’s relative fragility, the potential risk of injury and damage to property, and the complex legal framework surrounding the informal flying of drones, have lead many mainstream insurance companies to shut the door on policies - and the costs of repair, or liability, often rests solely with the hobby pilot.

1,200 drone accidents in 2019 –so far – at one repair shop.

According to Fixology, a drone repair company based in Cape Town, drones are falling out of the sky regularly.

In the first eight months of 2019, Fixology booked in around 1,200 damaged drones.

The company’s Nathan Appel says as many as 75% of the accidents they see are due to pilot error.

This includes owners testing out their drones indoors without a stable GPS signal, and not doing a proper preflight check before take off.

“It’s not uncommon for hobbyists to forget to ensure propellers and batteries are properly fitted before flying off,” says Appel.

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Although most hobby drones now come equipped with technology to avoid the most basic of accidents, amateur pilots often inadvertently override these, or fail to activate them correctly.

One key feature built into most good quality consumer drones is a return to home functionality, that returns the device to its starting point in the event of low battery, loss of signal, or other difficulties.

But even this isn’t foolproof. Some drone pilots set the return GPS location to a moving object, such as a boat - which means that when the drone returns to home, the pilot has moved on.

“Many accidents happen because pilots don’t wait for a full satellite signal on the drone before takeoff, resulting in no return to home location being logged on the device,” says Appel.

And many rookie crashes are due to battery issues.

“Some also fly a drone out with the wind, without taking into account the return time, given the force of the wind holding it back on the return home,” says Appel. “And some pilots simply forget to check their battery levels.”

A high volume of cellphone network towers and satellite dishes will confuse their drones, which is another leading cause of accidents that Appel sees at Fixology. And some inadvertently deactivate object avoidance sensors by flying their drones in sport mode - causing them to crash unexpectedly into fixed objects.

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And being in the Cape, Fixology repairs drones used for more than just photography. “In-experienced fishermen flying with bait droppers sometimes cause the line to be tangled in the propellers,” says Appel, “causing the drone to crash in the ocean.”

According to Fixology the number of accidents on the very first flight has dropped in recent years, thanks to the increase in accident avoidance technology. But even so, they estimate that as many as 10% of users crash their drones fresh out of the box.

Not all drone accidents are the fault of the pilot, though.

“Manufacturing faults, electronic parts malfunctioning, and faulty batteries can cause the props to stop in mid-air,” says Appel. “And using a non-recommended smart device to fly the drone, and getting a bad feed, can also result in blank screens and crashing”.

When drones do fall out of the sky, repairs aren’t cheap.

The parts that Fixology repairs the most - things like gimbals, sensors, propellers, legs and arms - can cost thousands to fix or replace. And if the crash is directly into the ocean or a body of water, you can write the drone off altogether.

Basic repairs to gimbal ribbons, landing gear, and remotes on entry level drones like the DJI Mavic start at R1,500, says Appel. But if you manage to destroy the gimbal on your DJI Phantom - one of the most popular drones in South Africa - you’ll be at least R14,500 out of pocket.


More insurers now cover drones – but it doesn’t come cheap.

Insuring drones in South Africa is difficult, in part because of the high rate of accidents, cost of repairs, and potential liability to third parties.

But according to Drone Covered’s Ryno Du Toit, the uptake for insurance from hobby pilots has also been slow. Drone Covered is one of the few companies in South Africa to insure non-commercial pilots and hobbyists, both on the ground and inflight.

Given the expensive repairs, and potential liability, Du Toit is unsure why more drone hobbyists aren’t taking up insurance, but he suspects because many fly so occasionally, and just for fun, they’re willing to take the risk of not insuring.

Drone Covered, like most insurers, are also particularly strict about claims - any breach of Civil Aviation Authority rules will lead to the claim being repudiated. And before any claim is processed, they will check the flight logs. Still, Du Toit says that about 10% of their current client base has logged claims, and of those, roughly 75% were successful.

Some larger insurance companies are also starting to insure non-commercial drones, though somewhat reluctantly. Hollard and Santam Aviation now offer full and comprehensive cover for private and commercial operators. And AlexanderForbes has a similar policy - they’ll cover the drone for loss and damage, though premiums go up significantly if this occurs while the drone is in use.

Most larger insurance companies require that pilots first attain official licenses to fly, though. This process, which runs through the Civil Aviation Authority, is arduous - particularly for the occasional weekend warrior.

As a compromise, Drone Covered offers incentives to those hobby pilots who undergo private proficiency training - both online and in-person. They will halve excess, from 20% to 10%, and increase liability cover, from R500,000 to R2.5 million.

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But drone insurance isn’t cheap - it will likely cost around 12% of the retail cost of the drone.

Insurance requirement or not, most experts recommend that users do some proficiency course, and are well versed in CAA laws. Flying a drone in South Africa is governed by several laws, and it’s a hobby that can have severe legal consequences, including fines and possible jail time for those who break them.

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What is the current situation of drones in South Africa? ›

Are drones allowed in South Africa? According to the SACAA, flying drones is legal in South Africa, but certain regulations must be strictly followed.

What is the most common cause of drone accidents? ›

Automatic fly modes:

Auto-fly modes like Return-to-home, ActiveTrack, and automatic take-off are some of the best things that have happened in drone technology. But they are the leading causes of crashing since it's not the same as flying the drone manually.

What are the chances of losing your drone? ›

Some other experts estimate that one-third of all drone owners will at some point crash their drones. For some people, for example, a crash can happen once every 3 years or even 5 years. Inexperienced pilots may crash their drones much more frequently than this.

Is it common to lose a drone? ›

It's common for drones to get lost due to losing GPS connection failures, if operated in unfavorable conditions. Or the problem may have been due to issues with software or hardware. Another possibility is that the batteries may have died mid-flight. What is this?

Is the impact of drone technology positive or negative? ›

The chemical content and residue left from these strikes, harm agriculture, public health and cause numerous skin and respiratory diseases. Apart from these air attacks, the usage of drones also lead to invasion of privacy, interference with air activity, storage of weapons and many other illegal activities.

Why drones are banned in Africa? ›

An illegal practice

Drone fishing particularly affects the refuges of endangered species. According to Bruce Mann of the Ocean Research Institute of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, threatened aquatic species are very often found in areas far from the shore.

What is the biggest problem with drones? ›

Without the ability to recognize other airborne objects, unmanned aerial vehicles can interfere with the flight patterns of other aircraft and pose potential safety threats. Geofencing helps to address this issue by creating a virtual fence that drones adhere to.

What are the biggest issues with drones? ›

Privacy. One of the most common concerns from the public about UAVs is privacy. Drones can collect data and images without drawing attention, leading many Americans to fear their Fourth Amendment right to privacy may be in jeopardy. This can occur if government entities were to use drones to monitor the public.

What negative impacts can the flying of drones cause? ›

Given that drones are airborne, there's always a risk of collision with other flying objects, buildings and power lines, as well as animals. This could negatively impact both parties involved, causing damage or harm to property, wildlife and maybe even human life.

How many people fail the drone test? ›

99% of students who complete DARTdrones Part 107 Test Prep Course pass the exam on their first attempt. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), every remote pilot who uses a drone to obtain monetary compensation must possess a drone pilot license.

What happens when you lose a drone? ›

If you do lose your drone, you will have to ask permission of the landowner/tenant to retrieve it. This can be unpleasant if the landowner or occupant is annoyed that it was flying out of control over them or their property in the first place.

Can drones save lives? ›

Drones and the use of other technology, such as robotics, in disaster response can and are saving lives around the globe. From search and rescue drones in Kazakhstan to vaccine deliveries in Vanuatu, the sky is truly the limit in the application of drone technology in emergency preparedness and disaster management.

Can police detect your drone? ›

Yes, High-resolution radars are specifically designed for drone detection and tracking. Reflected signals are analyzed and compared to a database for drone characterization. The stored signatures can also be used to eliminate objects that are not drone-like much like how radars are used to detect birds.

Can I fly my drone out of line of sight? ›

In 2016, the FAA published rules as Part 107 and later RemoteID which cover many of these small drones. However, the operator must be within visual line of sight of the drone—that is, you need to be able to see with your own eyes where your drone is.

Can a drone leave Earth? ›

As long as you have a long range control system, and enough battery in your drone you should be able to glide it back to earth. The following video provides a real-world example of this, along with some stunning footage! Space Glider - FPV to Space and Back!

What are 3 negative impacts of drones on society? ›

Impact of Drones on Society

Still, you can broadly summarize them into three significant effects drones have on the human psyche, loss of privacy, insecurity/fear, and changes in social dynamics.

Who would benefit from drone technology? ›

Aside from agriculture technology, drone security is a rapidly expanding industry highly beneficial to farm management. Using drones to monitor remote areas of a farm without physically going there saves time and enables more frequent monitoring of inaccessible regions.

Who benefits from drone technology? ›

Engineers can benefit greatly when they use a drone, because drone technology allows them to make even more accurate calculations for the building they are constructing. Drones are also beneficial for them if they need to double-check something on the building in a more efficient and convenient manner.

Is it legal to fly a drone in South Africa? ›

The good news is that drones have been legal in South Africa since 2015. However, before you bring your drone into the country, you should apply for permission from the CAA. It's also a good idea to register your drone and apply for licensing before planning to fly your drone in South Africa.

Are drones not allowed in USA? ›

There are rules and regulations that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put into place for flying drones in the United States which we'll go over in this article. Drones are allowed in the U.S, whether it's for recreational uses or for commercial uses.

What are the limitations of drone technology in South Africa? ›

You may not fly a drone within 10km of an airport. You may not fly nearer than 50 metres from people, buildings or roads. You may not fly a drone higher than 120m (400 feet). 'Hobby' drones must be flown in within the line of sight.

What are 2 disadvantages of drones? ›

Disadvantages of drones:
  • privacy-While the benefits of drones are endless, drone technology also has several disadvantages. ...
  • Legislative uncertainty –The use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has become common; however, the law is still being developed as it is a new technology in the industry.
May 14, 2022

What are the disadvantages of military drones? ›

Disadvantages of UAV

UAVs can be hijacked or manipulated. They can also trespass into authorized areas such as airports and military zones. While convenient surveillance is an advantageous use of drones, it can become a disadvantage with severe consequences when done by third parties.

Are there drone killing drones? ›

In Russia's war against Ukraine, Moscow has been seen using a killer drone that can divebomb into targets, destroying them with little notice. Drones large and small have been making an impact in war.

What are the abuses of drones? ›

Examples of their misuse include causing disruption to other aircraft, intrusion of privacy through filming people without permission, facilitating physical or cyber-attacks, and enabling other criminal activity (such as flying contraband into prisons).

What is the problem with using drones in war? ›

Use of drones on the territory and/or directly against a presumably hostile neighbour increases the risk of retaliation and further military escalation, although not necessarily to full-scale war.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a drone? ›

The Pros and Cons of Drone Technology
  • PRO: Drones are fun to fly. ...
  • CON: Not everyone takes kindly to seeing drones fly near or above them. ...
  • PRO: Drones are cheaper and easier to deploy than manned aircraft. ...
  • CON: Drones can cause damage to property and injury to people.
Aug 26, 2020

Do drone pilots get drug tested? ›

Yes. The federal drug and alcohol testing regulations under 14 CFR Part 120 and 49 CFR Part 40apply to all Part 119 certificate holders who are authorized to conduct operations under Part 135.

What score do you need to pass the drone pilot test? ›

The minimum passing score is 70% which is a maximum of 18 questions wrong or a minimum of 42 questions right. You also might be wondering if there is a recurrent knowledge exam. There used to be one but the FAA changed this in January 2021 to allow recurrent training to be done online.

How many pilots fail checkrides? ›

In 2021, FAA data showed that 78% of all PPL pilots passed on their first attempt. In that same year, 79.5% of pilots passed their commercial pilot checkride, and the pass rate for CFI checkrides was 77.9%. Although these numbers are high, it is evident that many pilots failed on the first try.

What is the latest on drone fishing in South Africa? ›

The applicants were in the business of selling bait-carrying drones, but in February 2022, the Chief Director of Fisheries Operations Support issued a public notice banning the use of certain devices for fishing – including drones. Transgressors would be prosecuted and have their drones taken away.

What is the current situation regarding drones? ›

By all accounts, the prospects for the drone market look promising, with some estimates indicating that the global drone market is poised to grow by $21.01-billion from 2021 to 2025, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of 14.42% during the forecast period, explains Connolly.

What is the future of drones in South Africa? ›

Using drones works out cheaper than other modes of transportation and it is often quicker.” SA's small drones market is seeing fast growth, and is estimated to reach $134.5 million by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 22.35% from 2020 to 2025, according to research firm Industry ARC.

What is the current situation of using drones? ›

The drone industry is rapidly growing and will continue to expand in the future. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) make various applications easier, such as commercial delivery, mapping and search & rescue.


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