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SAUSVCape Town – The City of Cape Town is aiming to deploy an unmanned aircraft as early as March next year to monitor crime, land occupations, metal theft and fires.

One night recently, a drone equipped with a high definition camera, was launched from Rondebosch Common, as part of a test flight to see the mini-chopper in action. It was the sixth successive drone to be vetted by the city, and mayoral committee member for Safety and Security JP Smith, who was present for the flight, said the results were “promising”.

According to IOL, the drone, built by Netherlands manufacturer Skycap, was able to remain airborne for almost an hour. Its predecessors only managed to hover for less than half that time, said Smith.

Initially, the test drive was not set to take place in the heart of the Southern Suburbs. Instead, the city hoped to deploy the vehicle in Zeekoevlei lake area and use its night vision to pick up the shapes of the local hippos rummaging in the brushes.

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Smith said heavy winds made flying the drone manually a challenge. In GPS mode, the drone would automatically adjust to changes in direction and quickly right itself.

He said the aim of using drones was to counter the expensive costs of renting a helicopter every time the city needed aerial surveillance. In comparison to the frequent rentals, the acquisition of a single drone (which could cost anywhere between R60,000 to R600,000) would be more cost-effective.

While all the interested departments would be expected to chip in for the cost of the drone, it would be kept with the city’s photographer. However, the deployment of drones as part of the city’s operations is far from a done deal.

In South Africa, despite widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in films, anti-poaching operations and recreational use (there are countless videos of people strapping tiny cameras on to their remote-controlled helicopters), it is still technically illegal to fly a drone.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority said it would be addressing the absence of regulations in regards to “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” by March next year.