Airactivities - Drones
Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) introduced new regulations for the operation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), more commonly known as drones, from 29 September 2016.
While the new regulations are less restrictive for drones with a total flying weight of less than 2kg, referred to as 'Excluded RPA", there are still a number of safety and other restrictions, Standard Conditions, that operators must adhere to. For larger drones or to be eligible to conduct operations that do not meet these restriction the pilot must be licenced by CASA and 'work for' an organisation approved by CASA. CASA's "Advisory Circular 101-10 - Remotely piloted aircraft systems - operation of excluded RPA (other than model aircraft)" can be found on their website. The key requirements are listed below, if you need more information or help contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Standard operating conditions (SOC) are:
- the RPA is operated:
- by visual line of sight (VLOS) only - close enough to see, maintain orientation and achieve accurate flight and tracking
- no higher than 120 m (400 feet) above ground level (see SOC note 1)
- during daytime only - not after sunset
- − the RPA is not operated
- any closer than 30 m from people not associated with the flight (this means flight crew)
- in a prohibited area or restricted area (see SOC note 2)
- in a restricted area that is classified as RA3 (see SOC note 3)
- over populous areas (see SOC note 4)
- within 5.5 km (3 NM) of a controlled aerodrome - one with an operating control tower (see SOC note 5)
- in the area of a public safety operation without the approval of a person in charge of the operation (see SOC note 6)
- only 1 RPA flown per pilot at any one time.
Standard Conditions Notes
1. Height limit of 120 m (400 ft) – referenced to a point on the ground immediately below the RPA at any time during the flight.
2. Prohibited area - area of airspace where the operation of all civil aircraft is prohibited. There are no permanently prohibited areas, but temporary ones are notified in notices to airmen (NOTAMs)—see section 3.2.2. Since there is no prospect of operating in these areas when they are active, no controlling authority contact details are published.
3. Restricted areas can be temporary and permanently prescribed areas of airspace in which flight may be permitted, but only with the express permission of the controlling authority for that area. There are three categories of restricted areas (RA1, RA2, RA3). Permission to operate in a restricted area is as follows:
- Operators of excluded RPA subject to the SOC may apply to the controlling authority for permission to operate within RA1 and RA2 areas when the areas are active. Controlling authorities are not obliged to grant permission or to give specific reasons for declining the request for access.
- Approved operations will be subject to any conditions imposed by the controlling authority. Failure to comply with the conditions is a failure to comply with the regulations and would be treated as such.
- The locations of permanent restricted areas are marked on aeronautical charts. Restricted area activation times and contact details for controlling authorities are published in En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA) of the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP). Guidance on accessing these charts and documents is set out in section 3.2.
- Temporary restricted areas are notified by Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).
4.Populous areas - for RPA operations it is defined in the regulations as:
…an area [that] has a sufficient density of population for some aspect of the operation, or some event that might happen during the operation (in particular, a fault in, or failure of, the aircraft…) to pose an unreasonable risk to the life, safety or property of somebody who is in the area but is not connected with the operation.
For example, if a rotorcraft-type RPA is flying at a relatively low height (i.e. ~30 m/100 ft) directly above a single person not associated with the flight, it may be considered to be operating in a populous area due to the fact that a complete loss of power may cause injury to the person below. Similarly, an RPA operating over a large public gathering at a higher level (e.g. 120 m/400 ft) would pose an unreasonable risk to the safety of the people below because, in the event of a systems failure, it may not be able to clear the area. This interpretation would apply equally to higher flight over built-up areas where there is a greater risk to property.
It is the responsibility of remote pilots operating RPA to ensure the flight does not take place unless it is compliant with the ‘populous area’ rule and to take appropriate precautions when operating in the vicinity of people and property.
5. Operation in controlled airspace
- Micro and Very Small RPA may be operated in controlled airspace, including within 5.5 km (3 NM) of a controlled aerodrome, but must remain below 120 m/400 ft.
- Small and medium excluded RPA (other than model aircraft) are permitted to fly in controlled airspace (not above 120 m/400 ft or within 5.5 km/3 NM of a controlled aerodrome) provided the pilot holds a relevant (radio) qualification.
- Rules for the operation of small and medium model aircraft in controlled airspace are explained in AC 101-03.
6. Public safety operation - such as a fire brigade, rural fire service, police or other public safety or emergency operation (e.g. bush fires, traffic accidents).
The 'landholder rule' requires that the operation be compliant with all of the following:
- the remote pilot is the owner of the RPA or is an employee operating the aircraft on the RPA owner's behalf
- the RPA is being operated over the owner's or leaseholder's property
- the RPA is being used for activities defined in regulation 101.237, specifically:
- aerial spotting
- aerial photography
- agricultural operations (e.g. weed spraying, pest spraying, fertiliser application, seed broadcasting or application of other substances for agricultural purposes)
- aerial communications re-transmission
- carriage of cargo
- any other activity similar to those listed above
Some activities, such as aerial photography, may be classed as recreational or commercial operations, depending on additional considerations. Remote pilots and operators must ensure that their flight activity meets the definition of ‘sport or recreation’ or the 'landholder' rules. If not, the operator and remote pilot must adhere to the SOCs and operate only very small RPA. Operations outside of these conditions require CASA operator and remote pilot authorisations. Unauthorised persons operating RPA outside of the conditions applicable to excluded RPA are in breach of the law and may be subject to enforcement action by CASA.
In the past CASA has considered the posting of photos or videos on publicly accessible websites such as Facebook and YouTube non-personal activities (i.e. more like commercial activities) and therefore requiring a commercial operator qualifications and licencing. Typical fines have been in excess of $800.
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