Exploring the new frontiers of drones

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which ushers in innovations across all industries.


We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which ushers in innovations across all industries. Drones are one of the fastest-growing tools in terms of innovation and, forming part of the aviation industry, they are regulated as such.

The co-founder and Business and Technical Director of Ntsu Aviation Solutions, Sam Twala, explains how it all comes together and how his organisation assists companies to use drones effectively and within the stipulated regulations. 

Please could you tell us a bit more about the formation of Ntsu Aviation Solutions?

Following my successful years at the Civil Aviation Authority, leading a regulations development team as a UAS Specialist and the promulgation of drone regulations, I was determined to make this industry work, thrive and reach its potential in any way possible.

I left the drone industry for about two years, barely six months after regulations were promulgated, but I soon realised that I made a mistake and needed to return.

I happened to meet my former colleague, Dale McErlean, with whom I worked with at the Civil Aviation Authority, at a UAS meeting, during the time. I was planning my return to what seemed like a stagnating two-year-old industry.

Dale was responsible for the operations aspect of regulatory development, completing the first test cases and, eventually, the certification of the first 25 RPAS Operators Certificate (ROC).

Born with aviation in her blood, Dale joined the Civil Aviation Authority after being in the aviation industry for 10 years—working at both O.R. Tambo and Cape Town International Airport, flying commercially and completing her BCom Aviation Management degree.

After a short time in the general aviation department at CAA, Dale joined the RPAS division. RPAS immediately became a passion for Dale, who remains excited and determined to use this dynamic technology to its full potential. We both realised that we have a similar passion, drive, zeal and, of course, expertise and experience to propel the drone industry to new heights. We decided to meet for coffee the following week, which resulted in the birth of NTSU Aviation Solutions, and both resigned from our jobs three months later.

What is the role of Ntsu Aviation Solutions?

NTSU Aviation Solutions is an aviation company that offers specialised and professional services to the unmanned aircraft systems industry.

More companies—small and large—are beginning to realise the potential, benefits and opportunities offered by drones and the value they can add to services already being offered.

Even though the use of drones cuts across all industries, they are regulated in accordance with aviation rules. Our role as NTSU Aviation Solutions is to assist new aviation entrants to introduce drones into their operations by designing an operational framework that suits the operator’s plans and vision while taking regulatory compliance into consideration. Our service includes assisting with strategic planning, designing the concept of operation, the training of postholders and development of compliance documentation, advising on the most suitable aircraft (drone) and associated equipment, eg. payload.

We assist prospective drone operators to attain their Air Service Licence and ROC approvals from the Department of Transport and the South African Civil Aviation Authority respectively. For existing ROC holders, we assist with continued regulatory compliance, scope expansion and modification, the introduction of new services, the addition of new aircraft as well as a drone management and operational control tool (app and web-based). Due to our experience with drones at an international level, our services cover all aspects of drone operations.

Can you tell us a bit more about Ntsu Aviation Solutions’ values?

We regard ourselves as safety ambassadors of the RPAS industry by consistently and innovatively delivering professional and cost-effective solutions to the industry at large. Ntsu Aviation Solutions was born out of a passion for the development and improvement of the drone industry. We strive to realise our dream of harmonisation and co-existence of drones and conventional aviation by enabling the equitable use of airspace and resources. I believe the ingredients and cornerstone to integrate drones and for the users to realise the full potential and benefits, these core values are critical, and we remain committed to them within Ntsu Aviation Solutions: Safety, integrity, customer commitment, passion, innovation and open-mindedness.

What is the company’s service delivery approach?

Understanding our clients’ needs and vision is critical to the successful introduction and implementation of drone technology, whether it’s a new business venture or value-add service. This is due to the fact that the use of drones differs from one organisation to the other and no one solution is best for all organisations and operations. Constant engagement and adaptability are important because things change rapidly in the drone industry, hence, flexibility is key when designing a solution for our clients.

Ntsu Aviation Solutions states that they are passionate ambassadors of the RPAS. Can you provide more details about RPAS?

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones, are defined by the Civil Aviation Authority and International Civil Aviation Organisation as “a set of configurable elements consisting of a remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), the required command and control links and any other system elements as may be required at any point during flight operation”.

The difference between RPAS and drones is that the former has a legal definition associated with civilian use and drones have been used for many years with its origin from the military.

RPAS has been part of aviation for over a century as model aircraft simply repurposed into a commercial “tool”. In 2011, the International Civil Aviation Organization pronounced RPAS as another type of aircraft, which must be regulated in accordance with existing rules and with modifications where necessary.

Ntsu strives to harmonise the co-existence of RPAS and conventional aviation systems and the equitable use of airspace and resources.

Can you briefly explain what differentiates RPAS (drone) from conventional manned aircraft?

The main difference between RPAS and conventional manned aircraft is the location of the pilot and common uses. Even though they are both defined as aircraft, the pilot of the RPAS is not on board of the aircraft he/she is piloting.

The majority of RPAS are purpose-built and intended for a specific use—filming, security surveillance, agricultural, mining etc. Due to the intended use, RPAS are predominately operated at very low altitudes and can be very small in size.

What are the current challenges that RPAS face that Ntsu Aviation Solutions strives to assist with?

Challenges faced by drone users are regulatory compliance, selecting the right tool for the job and integrating drones into the existing operational environment of the operator. The majority of drone users do not have aviation backgrounds, therefore, competency and compliance with aviation rules often present a huge stumbling block. Establishing aviation competency internally can be labour-intensive and costly.

We take care of the regulatory compliance and obtaining all the necessary approvals on your behalf so that you concentrate on your core service provision. We assist you to optimally integrate aviation processes into your existing policies and procedures for seamless integration, such that you see the drone as “another tool in your toolbox”.

In addition, we provide post-certification support, remaining at our client’s side; assisting them with running an aviation business whilst remaining compliant, growing and operating as safely as reasonably practical.

Our drone management and operational control tool gives the operator peace of mind and total operational control. This tool is used internationally in countries such as the UK and USA. This tool offers functionality such as operations management, flight planning, fleet management, risk management, automated hazard identification and flight logs and reporting.

We are an approved reseller of MMC UAV Drones. MMC drones are highly comparable with other brands and suitable for applications such as; energy and facilities inspections, law enforcement, fire-fighting, search and rescue, photogrammetry, 3D modelling, city planning and management, delivery, communication and security.

Similar to other technological advances, drone technology may also be misused for malicious and ill-intent by some, thus, we offer drone detection solutions for security-sensitive areas.

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