Legal use of UAVs, Remotely Piloted Aircraft,  Drones, UAVs.

There are many terms used to described a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) such as a drone and a UAV but the correct term is Remotely Piloted Aircraft.  Commercial  operators use RPA (UAV/Drone) on many tasks including photography, survey, inspection and training and have to comply with legislation. Whilst Hobbyists generally fly Remotely Piloted Aircraft  for fun, they are still required to comply with legislation and the standard operating conditions.  New Laws on 29/9/16  introduced the concept of an  ‘Excluded RPA’ which includes UAVs weighing less than 2kg (Eg Phantoms) . These excluded RPA have reduced regulatory requirements, such as not needing an operator’s certificate or a remote pilot licence (RePL) and can perform some commercial operations provided they comply with specific conditions.

Person wishing to fly UAVs above 2kg, require a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) and an Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate. (ReOC)

Legal use of UAVs (Drones) – Less than 2kg

For Information on the New Laws relating to the  Sub 2kg Category that became effective on 29/09/2016, please click here.

Legal use of UAVs (Drones) – Greater Than 2kg

The below section provides specific information for operators above 2kg and general information that is relevant to both weight classes.

Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) Part 101

The Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) Part 101 covers the use and operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA.  An RPA is commonly referred to as a Drone by most members of the public.

The following definitions are contained in CASR 101

  • RPA:  Remotely Piloted Aircraft
  • RePL: Remote Pilot Licence
  • ReOC: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate
  • RPAS: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

Compliance with the CASR ensures operations and performed safely and legally.

So What Do I Need To Operate an RPA > 2Kgs Commercially?

To operate a RPA (Drone) commercially (e.g. Hire, Reward, Benefit or Gain) you require two things:

  1. Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate (ReOC), and
  2. A Remote Pilot Licence (RePL)

If you hold a RePL, but not a ReOC , and want to operate commercially,  you need to operate under a Company that has a ReOC.

Standard Operating Conditions

When and Where RPA (Drones) Can Operate

The below is a summary of the ‘Standard Operating Conditions’ of RPA (Drone)  operations as per CASR.

RPA (Drones) can operate:

  • Where there is no unreasonable risk of:
    • Injury to Persons, or
    • Damage to Property.
  • Up to 400 feet (120Mtrs) above ground level (AGL),*
  • Greater than 3nm (5.5Km) from an aerodrome or Helicopter Landing Site.*
  • Outside of Restricted/Prohibited Airspace (e.g. Amberley Military Zone) *
  • In Good Weather Conditions (VMC)
  • When you can remain 30 metres from people or property not involved in the operation.

Note:  The height, proximity to aerodromes and restricted airspace operations can be modified by making application to CASA for an area approval or height approval.

Commercial Operations

The CASR states: A person/company may operate a UAV for hire or reward only if the person/company holds a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate (ReOC) that authorises the person/company to operate the RPA (UAV/Drone)  Additionally, an individual who pilots a RPA (UAV/Drone)  in a commercial operation is required to have an appropriate Remote Pilot Licence (RePL).  There are many misconceptions out in the Remote Pilot world about what constitutes a commercial operation.

The illegal operators will try and manipulate the meaning of commercial operations so they can complete an assignment.  This is generally in the Real Estate Industry.

Let’s be clear on what is meant by commercial operations. Civil Aviation Safety Regulation states a person may operate a RPA  for hire or reward only if the person holds a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate (ReOC) that authorises the person to operate the RPA.  

What Does This Mean for the Remote Pilot? This means, any form of remuneration for flying an unmanned aircraft in an aerial work type operation, however small the task, the reward, or the RPA (UAV), constitutes ‘Hire & Reward’.  If you receive any ‘benefit or gain’ from your flying it is a commercial operation.

 Meaning of Populous Place

Populous areas – for RPA operations, does not have its common meaning. Rather, 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.

Therefore RPA (UAV/Drone) CANNOT operate over a populated area unless the risk to persons or property can be mitigated.

Distance from People and Manned Aircraft

Distance from People

The standard rule is that you must not operate within 30mtrs of a person (the second person) who is not directly associated with the operation of a RPA. A person is deemed not to be associated with the flight if that person is not charged with duties essential to the safe operation of a remotely piloted aircraft.

Distance from Manned Aircraft

RPA pilots should land their aircraft or move it to a safe location any time that a potential conflict may develop between the manned aircraft and the RPA.

Important Notes

  •  Particular care should be taken in areas where low-level manned aircraft operations take place, especially in the vicinity of beaches and scenic areas (e.g. helicopters on shark patrol).
  • Be aware that low flying aircraft may suddenly appear with little warning.

Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)

Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) is  an operation in which the remote crew is only aided by spectacles or contact lenses (not binoculars or telescopes etc.) to maintain direct visual contact with the aircraft, to manage its flight and meet separation and collision avoidance responsibilities.

You must be able to see it, throughout all stages of your operation to comply with VLOS.

 Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS)

BVLOS is an operation in which the remote crew does not have direct visual contact with the aircraft to manage its flight and meet separation and collision avoidance responsibilities; and relies on electronic means of tracking For RPA operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), CASA will require a risk assessment and mitigation strategy is to be conducted by the applicant and submitted to CASA as part of the applicant’s safety case. Particular attention should be paid to aircraft controllability, fail-safe mechanisms, collision risk mitigation, navigation accuracy and height keeping accuracy.

To qualify for BVLOS operations the pilot must hold:

  • An IREX Exam Pass, or
  • An Instrument Rating

At this point in time, BVLOS operations cannot be performed without CASA approval.

First Person View (FPV)

FPV is a visual method used to control an aircraft from an on-board camera which streams a live cockpit view back to the pilot.  FPV is currently illegal for commercial operations without approval.

When CASR Part 101 was first drafted, First Person View (FPV) technology was not contemplated, therefore there are no technical specifications or performance standards for such equipment. CASA will require a risk assessment to be conducted by the applicant outlining the proposal to utilise this technology before CASA will grant an operational approval.

FPV can be used in operations where a pilot and photographer work together.  If you do not use live steaming to a LCD screen, the photographer can wear FPV goggles to frame the shot.