The first morning sessions were largely focussed on safety and the governing regulations for commercial drone use. The presentation by Mr Msithini of the South African CAA was particularly interesting and helpful. It was acknowledged there have been challenges both within the CAA and due to the rapid expansion of drone uses. As with other sectors, drones are also ‘disrupting’ traditional approaches to aviation safety and regulation. Measures are being put in place to manage applications better, to keep pace with progress and introduce a more streamlined application process.
The afternoon presentations included a discussion of the value of drones in Africa. Ian Melamed from Prowings Training made a clear case there are a great many benefits to using drones in Africa. However, he stressed operators must ensure they use the right drones with the right equipment at the right time with a full understanding of what’s trying to be achieved to be successful.
The use of drones to scan and assess the efficiency of solar panels at solar power plants using thermal camera was particularly interesting. The thermal cameras can identify problems with the solar panel cells which are otherwise invisible and may reduce the overall income generated by the plant. This presentation was given my Riaan Meyer of GeoSun Africa. A case study example noted that a 0.2% reduction of power generation identified for one plant was equivalent to approximately R750 000 in lost annual revenue. This loss may have gone undetected without the use of the drones.
The last presentation by Dean Polley of Aerial Vision Africa illustrated the new technology that can be used to fly drones safely within controlled airspace as per manned aircraft using a lightweight compact transponder and pressure barometer. In short, air traffic control and other aircraft would ‘see’ the drone and the drone operator would be able to see other aircraft in the vicinity of their operations using an app. It will therefore be easier to maintain safe operations in controlled airspace. The new DJI Matrice 200 has this capability and, he believes, it will only be a matter of time before all DJI models are fitted with this technology as standard and with additional anti collision software. This is a very exciting development.