The aviation industry has evolved tremendously over the past few decades. From the era of “flying brooms” – imagined or real – to the era of airplanes, the emergence of new technology has increased the complexity and versatility of flying objects, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and manned aerial vehicles (taxis). This industry evolution combined the legacy of the time-tested aviation industry’s successes with the fecundity of modern technology, resulting in the mass production of what has become generally known as “Drones”, to provide utility aviation and related services in many fields of human endeavor.
Drones have become very useful aviation transportation equipment in many areas including surveillance, reconnaissance, and delivery of supplies. Whereas the military uses drones for combat purposes, medical emergency services providers use them for delivery of medical supplies. Although various industry users of drones have the primary responsibility for their operation, the requirement for their operationalisation within the applicable regulatory framework should attract the attention of lawyers, as the preferred go-to professionals for advice on compliance issues. This article, the maiden in the series of write-ups on the subject, is aimed at highlighting the regulatory compliance requirements for operationalisation of drones in Ghana.
Drone Usage in Ghana
In Ghana, drones have been in use for no more than a decade. Initial usage was limited to event organizers and film producers mainly for aerial coverage. The recent deployment of drones for delivery of blood and other medical supplies to remote health facilities captured the attention and imagination of many Ghanaians — thereby expanding the horizon of its deployment in the country. Currently, drones are also deployed by mining companies, media houses, private security companies, and others, for primarily surveillance purposes. The gradual penetration of this technology into the Ghanaian landscape necessitates the need to understand the regulatory framework that governs its operation in the country.
Regulatory Institution and Laws/Regulations
The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is the mandated body for the regulation of drones in Ghana. The Ghana Civil Aviation Act, 2004 (Act 678) and Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act 2016 (Act 906) are the parent Acts establishing the GCAA with mandate to, among other things, ensure the safety of air navigation (s3(h) of Act 678). The Ghana Civil Aviation (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)) Directives – Part 28, 2018 (the Directive) provides for detailed compliance requirements for the registration and operation of drones in Ghana and states that the Directive shall be supplemental to provisions on the use of unmanned aircraft contained in other Ghana Civil Aviation Directives. Significant provisions of the Directive will be highlighted in the ensuing sections of this article.
The Directive defines an RPAS as a remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), the required command and control links and any other components as specified in the type design. (Also referred to as Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)). Accordingly, the RPAS comprises not only the flying device, but also the ground components linked to its effective operation.
Classification of RPAS
The Directive classifies drones (RPAS) into the following:
- Small RPAS: Unmanned aircraft with maximum take-off weight up to 1.5 kg, and shall be flown only within the visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilot. Visual Line of Sight is defined by the Directive as an operation in which the remote pilot maintains direct unaided visual contact with the RPA.
- Light RPAS: Unmanned aircraft with maximum take-off weight of more than 1.5 kg but less than or equal to 7 kg, and shall be flown only within the visual line of sight of the pilot.
- Large RPAS: Unmanned aircraft with maximum take-off weight of more than 7 kg which shall be flown either within the VLOS of the pilot or blind line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot with prior authorisation of the Authority.
From the above classification, whether a drone can be operated within the visual line of sight of the pilot or on their blind line of sight depends on the weight and class to which the drone belongs. For all drones of take-off weight less than 7kg, the drone must be in the visual line of sight of the pilot. On the contrary, drones weighing 7 kg and above at take-off may be flown either within or outside the visual line of sight of the pilot, but with prior authorization of GCAA.
Registration and Issuance of Permit
In order to operate or fly a drone in Ghana, one must first register and secure a permit– Part 28.6(1) and 28.7(1) of the Directive. Such permits issued shall be renewed annually from the date of issuance and may be surrendered, suspended, revised or revoked in accordance with the applicable provisions of the GCAA Directives. Accordingly, the operation of drones in Ghana for any purpose is criminal, unless the operator complies with the above provisions. The Directive defines a permit as a generic term for any approval to fly an RPAS granted by the Authority.
Safety and Risk Management
By Part 28.8 of the Directive, drone operators are required to implement approved safety management systems (SMS). The Directive defines a safety management system as a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. The specific provisions are as follows:
- Safety Management Systems (SMS)
- No person shall conduct commercial RPAS operations without having an approved SMS which will allow an effective identification of systemic safety deficiencies found in RPAS operations, as well as the resolution of safety concerns. Commercial is defined in the Directive as pertaining to remuneration or hire.
- For purposes of safety data collection, analysis and exchange, the Authority encourages all RPAS Operators to participate in a non-punitive voluntary incident reporting system.
- Notwithstanding (b), RPAS Operators shall promptly report to the Authority any occurrence which leads to an incident or accident or which has the potential of becoming an incident or accident.
- Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis: No commercial RPAS Operator shall operate without a hazard identification system as approved by the Authority.
- Emergency Response Planning: No person shall conduct commercial RPAS operations without having established an approved emergency response plan.
The Directive defines Operator as a person, organization or enterprise engaged in or offering to engage in an aircraft/RPAS operation.
The operation of drone technology in Ghana is regulated by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, whose RPAS Directive Part 28, 2018 stipulates the requirements for compliance. Given the trend of drone usage globally, it is estimated that its use in Ghana will increase significantly in the near future. Subsequent series on the subject of drones will focus on the requirements for special authorisation, licensing competencies, regulations on drone operation and the rules applying to foreigners who wish to operate drones in Ghana.
Major Selasie Atuwo (Rtd) is a lawyer and has keen interest in Cyberspace Laws and Regulations, ICT Law, Privacy and Data Protection Law, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence and laws relating to National and Private Security.