Beyond line of sight: CASA releases review into Australia's drone rules

In September 2016, we wrote here about changes to Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, which relaxed the requirements for commercial use of drones under 2kg in weight.

Since then, the popularity and use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) (or drones as they're more commonly known), has expanded exponentially, with an estimated 150,000 in use in Australia, and over 1 million in use in the USA.

With that increased use comes an increased focus on regulation and public safety. While there have fortunately been no recorded incidents of actual impact between aircraft and RPAs in Australia, community awareness of, and concern about, RPA use is certainly increasing. Issues like maintaining clear airspace, insurance, physical safety, public liability and privacy are all intensified by the proliferation of RPAs, and need to be managed in order to realise the full potential of this technology.

Accordingly, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has recently completed its 'Review of aviation safety regulation of remotely piloted aircraft systems' (Review). Published in May 2018, the Review considered the adequacy of Australia's existing regime, with a view to implementing an aviation safety framework that balances community expectations around safety, efficiency of administration, and international developments with the economic benefits and technological advancements that can surely flow from deployment of drone technology.

After a detailed public consultation process, CASA made the following seven key recommendations:

  • introduction of mandatory registration for RPAs weighing 250 grams of more
  • introduction of mandatory online training course for all recreational and sub-2kg commercial RPA users, with minimum pass-mark test at its completion
  • continuing education and training programs for other commercial RPA pilots
  • ongoing work with manufacturers to implement geo-fencing solutions
  • international engagement to keep up to date with global trends and participate in trials
  • engagement with Airservices Australia to ensure the development of standard data on airspace; and
  • preparation of an ongoing roadmap for integration of RPAs into the Australian airspace system, including content on unmanned traffic management systems.

The commercial use of RPAs is already strictly regulated, and so the key developments from the Review are really the suggestion of mandatory registration and testing. Any testing and licensing system would involve significant administrative elements, and no doubt resistance from consumers who consider RPAs to be nothing more than harmless hobby devices.

The developments that will interest commercial users of RPAs will no doubt be the international engagement and regulatory roadmap, as CASA is heavily involved with its counterparts overseas, and so watching trends (and leading trends, as Australia often does in this space) will give a look beyond the current line of sight into the regulatory future. It is imperative to get the settings right to maximise the opportunities from this technology. This will certainly be a space to watch further.

The full Review can be found here.

Partner Alex Hutchens will be speaking at the World of Drones Congress from 9 to 10 August 2018 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. You can hear more about Alex's thoughts in this interesting area of law by registering for the conference here.

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