From 29 September 2016, the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment (Part 101) Regulation 2016 takes effect. The Amendment clarifies Australia's regulation of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) (otherwise known as drones) as it deregulates the use of smaller RPAs for commercial purposes.

The regulations introduce three main changes:

  1. RPAs will now be categorised based on weight.
  2. RPAs must be operated in accordance with Part 101 of the Manual of Standards.
  3. Subject to certain exceptions, a person who operates an RPA must hold a remote pilot license and an RPA operator's certificate. Exceptions include the operation of very small RPAs and land holders rights to operate small RPAs.

The Civil Aviation Safety authority has released guidance on the amendments which can be found on their website. The noteworthy changes are discussed below.

Very Small RPAs

Importantly, the Amendment now allows the operation of RPAs under 2kg without certification, provided that the RPA is operated:

  • within visual line of sight;
  • no higher than 120 m above ground level;
  • during the day only; and

provided that the RPA is not operated:

  • any closer than 30 m from people not associated with the flight;
  • in a prohibited or restricted area or over a populous area;
  • in a restricted area that is classified as RA3; or
  • in a restricted area that is classified as RA2 and RA1 otherwise than in accordance with regulation 101.065;
  • within 5.5 km of a controlled aerodrome; or
  • in the area of a public safety operation (e.g. a fire or police operation) without the approval of a person in charge of the operation; and

the person operating the RPA operates only that RPA.

Landholder Rule – Small RPAs

Under the new regulations, owners/occupiers of land may operate their own small RPA (between 2kg-25kg) to carry out a range of flight activities relating to the management of the land without needing a license or operator's certificate. However, for medium RPAs (between 25kg to 150 kg), the remote pilot must be trained and licensed to fly under the 'landholder rules.'

Commercial Activities

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has issued a warning to operators about making a careful distinction between commercial and non-commercial use. Some activities, such as aerial photography, could be classified as commercial use. Operators must ensure that their activities meet the definition of ‘sport or recreation’ or the 'landholder' rules. If an operator's activities have a commercial basis, they must ensure their RPA fits the 'very small classification' (under 2kg) or the operator has an operator and remote pilot authorisation.