The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (the CASA) has released its Review of Aviation Safety Regulation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Report) following consultation on a discussion paper run in late 2017. The discussion paper and the Report both respond to safety concerns relating to the use of drones (also referred to as remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs)) raised by various stakeholders following the implementation of the new Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (Cth) (CASR).

The Report was prepared at the request of the Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, which is currently examining regulations on safe operation of drones, and will be used to inform any future regulation in this area. The Report flags new safety regulations and implementation of technological safety solutions for commercial and recreational drone users. It also lays the groundwork for greater coordination and management of drone traffic and airspace in the future as drone use continues to grow. Importantly, the Report seeks to balance the safety of commercial and recreational drones while facilitating growth and innovation in the use of drones in Australia.

Scope of the Report

The Report considers the relative safety benefits and cost effectiveness of proposed safety measures relating to drones including:

  • Introducing mandatory registration, education and training for all drone operators
  • Deploying geo-fencing capabilities for drones.

The Report also considers the effectiveness of the CASA’s operating model with respect to the regulation of drones, with the objective of testing it to ensure that it takes account of:

  • Technology growth of the drone community
  • Operational growth of the drone community
  • Related developments in the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other international aviation safety agencies.

Recommendations of the Report

The Report recommends various safety initiatives including:

Recommendation

Description

Mandatory registration of drones

  • The Report supports mandatory drone registration in Australia for drones weighing more than 250 grams. In particular, the CASA suggests a registration process that:
    • Is simple and easy to use
    • Requires identity verifications of registrants
    • Only allows individuals over 18 years of age to register
    • Requires the renewal of registrations after a certain period of time
    • Requires the inclusion of prescribed details about the particular drone being registered
  • The Report also recommends a registration fee based on the category of the registration (ie. recreational or commercial) and the weight of the drone.

Development of an online training course

  • The Report indicates that the CASA will develop a simple online training course (including a quiz with a minimum pass mark) tailored to the needs of recreational and excluded category drone operators (ie drones that are light and operated under the CASA’s standard operating conditions).

Maintenance of current training and education requirements

  • The Report does not suggest any changes to the current education and training framework relating to remote pilot licences. Currently, commercial drone operators and operators of large drones (above 150kg) must have a drone operator’s certificate or hold a remote pilot licence, which requires the completion of a training course and an examination.

Deployment of geo-fencing

  • The Report supports the efforts of drone manufacturers to utilise geo-fencing technology to prevent drone operations in restricted areas (eg. near airports). The CASA has considered whether mandatory standards for geo-fencing technology are needed, but suggests in the Report that further development and wider adoption of the technology by drone manufacturers is needed before the CASA can implement a mandatory standard.

Participation in international sphere

  • The Report indicates that the CASA will seek to increase participation in international forums to stay across global trends and participate in trials of drone technology. The CASA is particularly interested in technological developments in geo-fencing technology and its interaction with unmanned traffic management systems.

Working with Airservices Australia

  • The Report indicates that the CASA intends to work with the Government corporation responsible for air-traffic control services in Australia, Airservices Australia, to ensure the development of standardised data on airspace. The CASA’s aim is to ensure the suitability of Airservices Australia as a source for drone manufacturers in applications such as geo-fencing.

Drone roadmap

  • The CASA will develop a drone roadmap to articulate how to safely integrate drones into the Australian airspace system. Elements of the roadmap will include airspace integration, unmanned traffic management, initial airworthiness and certification standards, e-identification, training and competency, and geo-fencing.

What’s next?

In Australia, the use of drones is growing rapidly. Drones are being used successfully in many industries including mining, infrastructure assessment, search and rescue, police and fire operations and agriculture. In the Report, the CASA notes that benefits like reduced costs, improved workplace safety and increased productivity must be balanced with ensuring that other airspace users remain unaffected and privacy, national security and safety of the community is not adversely affected.

The CASA will likely continue to follow developments in drone technology and the international response to drones. Additionally, the CASA will be considering the outcome of a separate senate inquiry into drone safety before making its final decisions on regulatory change. It plans to complete its roadmap by the end of 2018.