The emergence of drones, to date called ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ or UVA’s has seen the Civil Aviation Authority update their regulations to best reflect the changing use of these small but potentially dangerous aircraft. Further to our news story earlier this year, there have been several dramatic near misses between drones and commercial aircraft.  In Adelaide the pilot of a skydiving plane reported a drone around 100 feet below her, at approximately 1,100 feet, more than 700 feet above the 400 feet ceiling imposed on the small aircraft.

In the UK, a British Airways passenger jet reported a drone struck the aircrafts window on approach to Heathrow Airport, where numerous other near misses have also been reported by a raft of pilots.  The United States Federal Aviation Authority has reported more than 600 near misses during the 5 month period to May 2016, but to date there have been no reported collisions.

Australia’s CASA identified the difficulty for all controllers of various aircraft to obtain the necessary licences and therefore understand the restrictions and rules, especially around where and how high the vehicles can be flown.

To align with the International Civil Aviation Authority terminology, the regulations will now refer to remotely piloted aircraft or RPA’s.  Now defined by weight there will be four classifications including craft that are very small (<2 kg), small (2-25kg), then medium (25-150kg) and large (>150kg).

As part of the update regulations, to come into force from 29 September 2016, the regulation also introduces the concept of excluded RPA, representing RPA operations considered to be lower risk. These operations will have reduced regulatory requirements, such as not needing a UAV operator’s certificate (UOC) now called a remotely piloted aircraft operator's certificate or ReOC or a remote pilot licence (RePL).

From 29 September 2016, commercial operators flying very small RPAs, weighing fewer than two kilograms, will not require an ReOC or an RePL. Operators will only have to provide one notification to CASA at least five days before their first commercial flight and operate by the standard operating conditions.

The excluded RPA concept also allows private landowners to carry out some commercial-like operations on their own land with a small RPA without needing an ReOC or an RePL, provided they follow the standard operating conditions and none of the parties involved receive remuneration.

An operator flying a medium RPA in the excluded category must hold an RePL.

The standard RPA operating conditions will be:

  1. You must only fly during the day and keep your RPA within visual line-of sight.
  2. You must not fly your RPA higher than 120 metres (400ft) AGL.
  3. You must keep your RPA at least 30 metres away from other people
  4. You must keep your RPA at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes
  5. You must not fly your RPA over any populous areas. These can include: beaches, parks and sporting ovals.
  6. You must not fly your RPA over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway (without prior approval). Note: This could include situations such as a car crash, police operations, a fire and associated firefighting efforts and search and rescue.
  7. You can only fly one RPA at a time.

CASA continues to update the requirements under Section 101 and will release further information in the lead up to September changes.