There is a solid basis for Australia’s aviation regulator proposing those operating remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) weighing less than two kilograms under specific conditions will not require a licence, experts say.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says unmanned aerial vehicles two kilograms or less represent only a small risk to safety.
In issuing a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for amendments to CASR Part 101 it is seeking comment on allowing these vehicles to be flown without a licence under certain conditions.
Under the proposed CASA changes, these smaller RPA’s can be flown without an unmanned aircraft system operator’s certificate or remote pilot certificate, under a number of specific conditions.
The RPAs have to be less than 400ft above the ground; flown in daylight conditions; be flown outside of controlled airspace; more than 30m away from people; more than 5km from an aerodrome; and a line of sight has to maintained with the vehicle.
CASA’s recommendations came after it conducted a risk assessment for small RPA of two kilograms and below to investigate the potential harm to people, property and other airspace users.
“The general consensus is that RPA with a gross weight of two kilograms and below have a very low kinetic energy, pose very little risk to aviation and have a low potential for harm to people and property on the ground and other airspace users,” CASA said.
Deputy director of the Sir Lawrence Wackett Aerospace Research Centre at RMIT University, Reece Clothier, said CASA was the first to regulate unmanned aircraft more than a decade ago and welcomed the latest proposal.
“Looking at all the considerations, most importantly safety but also the practicality and the economic argument, they have actually done that class of the industry a positive thing in reducing the regulatory burden,” Dr Clothier said in an interview.
“The approach they are using is justifiable, it is risk based so is defensible from that respect and for that I think what they are doing is really good.
“The Australian industry is very well placed and actually owes a lot of where it is today because of those proactive measures that have been taken by CASA.”
The editor of industry website UAS News Gary Mortimer said CASA’s proposal was a sensible move.
“Putting in place clear guidelines for sub two kilogam use gets rid of all grey areas and that is the right thing to do,” Mortimer said via email from South Africa.
“Australia and the UK did the right thing starting with strict rules and relaxing them as operational experience is gained.”
Regulations of these sorts of vehicles is a growing concern in the aviation industry, given their rising popularity and increasing affordability.
And approaches vary among different countries. For example the United States has banned almost all non-government use of remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones.
There have also been some near misses and accidents in recent times.
In 2010, a RPA came within 30 metres of a Virgin Australia 737 on approach to Perth airport.
“Fortunately the RPA was caught in the jetwash (or more commonly known as wake turbulence) which in turn caused it to spiral towards the ground,” CASA deputy director of aviation safety Terry Farquharson told a Canberra seminar in July 2013.
“This incident could have been lot worse that it appears to be.”
Farquharson said the rapid growth of the RPA sector represented one of CASA’s key challenges, given a study in 2013 by the US-based aerospace and consulting firm Teal Group forecast RPA spending to double from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion over the next decade.
“These are big numbers,” Farquharson said.
“This sector has emerged as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade.”
The deputy director said the increasing numbers and of small RPAs and their varied capabilities in Australia meant it was “impossible for CASA to effectively regulate all of them”.
“We have to address the current reality. There is no point in CASA writing regulations that can’t be enforced,” Farquharson said.
Submissions to CASA’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making to part 101 of the regulations are due by June 16.