Drones make excellent travel companions, especially if you’re an avid photographer, travel writer or simply a gadget enthusiast with an appreciation of the great outdoors. The development and increasing popularity of drones has created many opportunities for travel aficionados wanting to share their jet-setting experiences.
However, there are laws governing travel with drones, and although they aren’t too hard to abide by, it’s important to take them into consideration; both for safety reasons, as well as to avoid any surprises when you’re far from home. Although, some of these laws are airline specific or wouldn’t go beyond national borders, most apply globally, particularly those dealing with safety and security.
Drones on a Plane
South African drone laws are governed by SACAA (the South African Civil Aviation Authority). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) further governs the regulations set out by individual airlines which form part of its network, including most (if not all) South African airlines. These regulations include those dealing with airport security and provisions for goods carried as luggage by passengers and airline crew.
Generally, rules for carrying drones as part of luggage are relatively straightforward and won’t make things particularly difficult for you.
Drones may either be checked in or taken as carry-on luggage on most airlines. Unless the airline prohibits it, it would be best to keep your drone with you as part of carry-on luggage, as with any valuables. Larger drones would need to be checked in.
If you are faced with the situation of your drone being too large to form part of carry-on luggage, make sure to store your drone in protective casing. We’re all too familiar with how checked in baggage is handled, and potential damage to an expensive drone is a risk too great to be taken lightly. There are certain airlines (including South African ones) that do not allow drones at all, so it’s always better to check with the particular airline before showing up with a drone as part of your luggage.
Batteries, however, may not be checked in. Should the batteries overheat and catch fire (a very rare occassion) the airline crew would be alerted sooner and be able to deal with the problem, only if it happens in the passenger cabin rather than at the bottom of the plane.
Furthermore, lithium -ion (rechargeable) batteries need to be of a maximum Watt-Hour rating of 100 Wh and no more than two are allowed. It must be reiterated that these regulations may differ across airlines.
In order to reduce the risk of combustion, it is recommended that the batteries are either stored in sealed packaging or having the terminal of the battery covered with electrical tape. If you’d really like to be airport security’s pet, investing in a “Battery Safe Bag” would also be a great option.
A further precaution would be to drain the battery to one bar (or about 10%) before boarding the plane. When moving through security checkpoints, always cooperate with security and respond to any questions they may have. It also helps to remove the batteries from your bag and place them in a separate bin when passing through checkpoints.
Where Your Drone Is Not Welcome
While many countries are open to drone flying, regulations and restrictions in certain parts of the globe are quite rigid, with drones being completely banned by certain governments. So before you decide to fly off to Egypt intending to capture your expeditions through the vast dunes of the Sahara, perhaps it would be useful to know that this could very well land you in hot water, possibly even warranting arrest. Unfortunately, these laws are not unique to the land of the Pharaohs. Below is a list of (known) countries with the tightest drone regulations and bans.
Making it (Even) Better
Once you’ve ensured that you’re clear on safety and security regulations, it would be a good idea to focus on the little things that would be an added convenience on your trip…
For one, you should always ensure that you’ve packed extra sets of propellers and a basic tool kit, in the very unfortunate event that you’ll have to deal with a bit of damage or, tragically, a crash. But, these things do happen, so best be prepared; especially if you’re a million miles from home and you’d really like to capture footage of that breath-taking landscape before you leave.
Try and avoid flying your drone around the national monuments of a country. This may not go down well with authorities.
Always be comfortable and prepared. Store your drone in a bag comfortable enough for trekking long distances, while at the same time protecting it from possible damage. The DJI drone and remote-control cases would be a good idea. These can just be placed in a larger, soft bag. Familiarise yourself with the regulations of your destination and make sure you abide by them at all times. Nobody likes a run-in with the Law while on holiday.
Above all, enjoy your drone and what it can do for you… Make some awesome memories and be sure to capture every one of them. If you’re wondering which drone will suit your needs, check out our handy first-time drone buyers guide!