Unauthorised drone activity has been reported near the Cape Town Table Mountain fire which started on 19 April 2021.
Footage seen on social media – including close footage of Public Safety Agency activity and drone footage of the fire itself, was sent to CUAASA on Tuesday. In addition, a ‘Working on Fire’ Command and Control Spotter Pilot who was part of the aerial fire-fighting efforts, has commented on the dangers of drones near their area of operation and at the shock of seeing the social media drone footage with one of their helicopters in it.
“This is a major concern for our safety as pilots. The visibility due to the smoke is minimal, thus spotting a drone at the low levels we operate at would be impossible”. He further added: “We urge the public and drone hobbyists to please stay clear of active fire while manned aircraft are in the vicinity”.
Whether individuals want to follow developments of a disaster situation or simply gain social media fame, they are in fact putting Public Safety Agency personnel in great danger. Over the last few days, there were up to five aerial fire-fighting helicopters operational at any one time, and the person flying that specific drone would not have been able to hear or observe another helicopter approaching from another direction. An unlikely but possible C2 Link loss might have also put the drone into an un-controlled flight directly into the path of the helicopter being filmed.
It needs to again be highlighted that airborne drones pose a substantial risk to manned aircraft; a drone colliding with a tail rotor or being ingested into an engine, could cause a catastrophic accident. It is therefore important to remind drone owners to follow the regulations and specifically not to fly their drone near aerodromes, controlled / restricted airspace, or disaster situations.
CUAASA has reached out to the individual who posted the social media content.
The individual responded apologetically and now understands the risks posed to the nearby aircraft. It was also noted that flights took place in the SANParks Table Mountain National Park, which is a no drone zone. Based on the severity of this case, enforcement of Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Regulations, is being considered. Flying safely and according the SACAA hobby rules is paramount to keeping the skies safe.
See SACAA for hobby rules. It should be noted that legal commercial drone operators will most likely be operating in and around the disaster area now that the fire is reported to have been contained. Commercial drone operators will be conducting aerial post loss assessments for insurance purposes and the like. Commercial drone operators will always have permission from landowners, permission to fly in controlled airspace and radio contact with manned aircraft traffic for safe and legal operation.