Academic gets Drone Flying Licence
Mechatronics’ Associate Professor Riaan Stopforth has become the first Academic Engineer to obtain a Remote Pilot Licence from ProWings, which will allow him to fly drones up to 400 feet high.
South Africa is the first country in the world to issue ICAO approved remote pilot licences through the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Stopforth; the CEO of ProWings, Mr Ian Melamed, and ProWings Chief Flight Instructor, Mr Michael Muller are some of the few in South Africa to hold the licence.
The course from ProWings focuses on all the laws, aviation mechanics and procedures required when flying a Remote Pilot Aircraft system (a drone).
‘Recently, a drone nearly collided with British Airways craft while the plane was landing in Heathrow,’ said Stopforth. ‘This opened up a conversation on how drones can and should be regulated so as to avoid such incidents.’
The incident shed light on some of the problems that unmonitored drones can cause. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) argued that aeronautics institutions should introduce programmes to help regulate drones.
ProWings introduced the Remote Pilot Licence, becoming the first licence of its sort in South Africa to be approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Currently, Stopforth holds a multi-rotor rating licence and he’s pursuing the fixed wing and instructors rating, which will ultimately allow him to teach students the mechanics and laws behind flying a drone up to 400 feet. The training and research will be conducted in the Stopforth Mechatronics, Robotics and Research Lab.
Stopforth is also running a national project with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles prototyping and developing the initiative in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Stopforth said that UKZN had officially approved a postgraduate programme in Mechatronics, which will focus on drones and how they can be used in search and rescue missions.