Senator Nick Xenophon says he plans to seek to have the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s (CASA) new rules on the operation of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) struck out when parliament resumes next week.
Under new rules that came into effect on September 29, people or organisations flying commercial RPAs, or drones, weighing less than two kilograms do not have to apply to CASA for a certificate and licence.
CASA said the regulations “cut the cost and red tape” of operating these types of aircraft while ensuring the public remained safe.
“This means very small commercial drone operators can avoid the requirement to pay about $1,400 in regulatory fees, as well as the need to develop manuals and other documentation,” CASA said on September 29.
“Public safety is being protected by a requirement to follow strict operating conditions at all times.”
However, pilots and air traffic control groups have criticised the new drone regulations, arguing they posed a risk to public safety.
Sen Xenophon said he shared their concerns and would move an “urgent disallowance motion” in the Senate next week to strike out what he described as “dangerous” new drone rules.
“CASA has set a bad and dangerous precedent with these new rules,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“They say it’s low risk based on computer modelling, which ignores the real-life experience of pilots and air traffic controllers.
“The consequences of a drone being sucked into a jet engine or hitting a helicopter rotor, causing serious damage and threatening flight safety, must not be ignored.”
Sen Xenophon said he wanted a similar approach to the US, which required all drones to be registered, operators trained and certified, adopted in Australia.
The CASA rules were first proposed in 2014, when the regulator issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for amendments to CASR Part 101.
Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) president David Booth said there was a growing problem of rogue drones violating controlled airspace at primary airports.
“These new rules remove layers of safety and pose serious risk to air safety in Australia,” Captain Booth said.
Further, he said there were three incidents involving rogue drones in the landing path at Sydney Airport in the past four weeks, while there had been 150 incident reports from pilots and air traffic controllers in the past 12 months.
The AFAP represents about 4,000 commercial pilots in Australia.
Under the new rules, operators have to fill out an online notification form detailing the specifications of the aircraft for CASA’s records.
Operators were also required to fly the aircraft under a number of specific conditions, including that they only be used during daylight hours and in line of sight, be more than 30 metres away from people and more than 5.5 kilometres away from a controlled airport. Their use over populous areas such as beaches, parks and sporting ovals, as well as near emergency operations such as bushfires, accidents or search and rescue areas, was also prohibited.
Australian Association for Unmanned Systems president and RMIT University honorary associate professor Reece Clothier said CASA used a risk-based approach to develop the regulations.
“There’s very little evidence to suggest that the level of risk will increase from commercial drone operations as a result of changes to the regulation,” Dr Clothier told ABC Television’s Lateline on September 30.
“And we’ve had an impeccable safety record for the commercial industry over the last 14-15 years.
“What we are seeing is an increase in the number of people who are undertaking training, ahead of the changes of the regulation; and industry associations providing professional training programs. And all these facts suggest that we won’t see the skies filling full of untrained and unsafe commercial operators.”
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