The Difficulty Of Insuring A Drone In South Africa

Your drone probably cost quite a bit of money and you want to insure it. But, insurers are making it impossible for you to do so. Why?
Jason Snyman
A couple of years ago, the OppiKoppi festival started tinkering with the idea of beer delivery by drone. What a time to be alive. Today, the advancements and innovation in technology have allowed companies such as Amazon to utilize drones in a number of new and exciting ways. It’s not just the run-of-the-mill retail delivery service anymore. You don’t even need a viable address. Only the location sent via your smartphone. Sure, a drone delivering that DVD boxset you ordered might crash into your house and catch fire, but in most cases it’s a risk worth taking. Think of all the good that the technology could do. In the event of an emergency, in hard-to-access locations, etc. In Rwanda, for example, drones can circumvent all the rough terrain to deliver blood samples to hospitals. South Africa is slowly beginning to embrace this technology. Drone enthusiasts, though, still face a number of problems. Depending on whether you’d like to get one for commercial or personal purposes, you may have to acquire a couple of licenses first. And then, of course, this kind of high-tech gadgetry can come at a hefty price. Somewhere in the world, right now, there’s a drone on autopilot. The owner will never see it again. Expensive machines are worth insuring, but it gets a little tricky.
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Why Is A Drone So Difficult To Insure?

Most insurance companies in South Africa want nothing to do with you and your drone. The few that do will make you jump through hoops in order to get it insured. And even then, the cover is limited. Why is that? Could it have something to do with the fact that many hobbyists aren’t aware of the rules and regulations surrounding the use of a drone in South Africa? These are set by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and include, but are by no means limited to:
  • You may not fly it within 50 meters of a person or group  of people in public without their permission;
  • Drones may not be flown within  10km from an airport, airstrip or helipad;
  • You may not fly it higher the 122 meters from the ground;
  • Do not fly over private property without express permission from the owner;
  • Don't fly in drone no-fly zones. Which, as it happens, are pretty much everywhere.
And then, of course, you get the hobbyists who just disregard these laws and run the risk of crashing their drone into a helicopter or an airplane. According to the SACAA, offences could even lead to a 10-year prison sentence. Or, best-case scenario, fines of up R50 000. So, we have drone operators flouting rules. They're going around crashing their drones into other people’s things. Combined with the remote nature of the technology, this all make drones one huge risk to insure. Most insurance companies will simply turn you down if your drone isn’t officially registered – which is incredibly difficult to do. According to Rocketmine’s State Of The Drone Report 2018, only about 663 drones in SA are registered. Another huge factor is getting your hands on a Remote Pilot Licence.  

Getting Your Drone Paperwork In Order

Drones that are being used for commercial purposes – anything related to business – need to be operated by a pilot with a Remote Pilot Licence (RPL). The company itself needs to own a Remote Operating Certificate (ROC). Attaining an RPL requires you to complete a 7-day course at a cost of between R15 000 and R25 000. This means that you are personally licensed to fly a drone. However, if you wish to offer any services to others in a commercial capacity, you need to have an ROC too. The application for an ROC can take up to 15 months and according to Approved Drone Pilots South Africa, the costs can easily sore well over R100 000. Ridiculous, right? But as the situation currently stands there’s just no way around it. Hollard, for instance, only insures registered drones that are operated by licensed drone pilots. Many other insurance companies will cover your drone in the event of something such as theft, but not for anything that happens while in the air. There are just too many ways in which a drone can sustain or cause damage. Risk factors include a collision with third party property, collision with a person or an animal causing injury and death, etc. Santam Aviation has also developed an insurance product which covers the full spectrum of drone ownership usage within both commercial and private spaces. Santam is one of the few insurers willing to do so – but in-flight cover remains limited and restrictive. For anybody interested in getting theirs insured, or even obtaining the relevant licenses, Drone Insurance run by Action Gear is a valuable tool.