Prince Harry and Princess Meghan have arrived in Australia and Invictus Games commences in Sydney this week. Temporary restricted areas have been established for the event limiting drone operations within the Sydney region for the duration of the event.

The Invictus Games is the brainchild of Prince Harry and sees wounded veterans compete in a variety of events. The Sydney games sees 500 competitors from 18 countries compete in 11 medal events. Like other large events, the Invictus games has seen the establishment of Temporary Restricted Areas to limit drone operations to only those approved by the controlling authority, New South Wales Police.

The Temporary Restricted Areas (TRAs) only apply to remote aircraft and do not affect piloted aircraft.  The TRAs apply between the 18th and 28th of October and details have been published through an Aeronautical Information Circular H33/18 . New South Wales police will allow those holding a Remote Operator Certificate and approval to operate in the airspace during the Invictus Games. Remote aircraft operated in the excluded category or recreationally are not able to gain approval to operate within the TRAs. Unlike other TRAs, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has added the Invictus Games TRA’s to the “Can I fly their app” helping drone users identify the affected areas. Professional drone operators utilising an electronic flight bag such as Avplan EFB will also note the inclusion of the temporary restricted areas.

Piloted aircraft have not remained untouched, with a visit by the royals to the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Dubbo resulting in the airport being closed to all traffic except scheduled airline and emergency flights.

During the commonwealth games in Brisbane this year a drone was “shot down” (Commonwealth Games temporary restricted area results in police shooting down drone) by Queensland police after flying near the temporary restricted areas associated with the event. Flights within Restricted areas, without approval, can be subject to fines in excess of $4000 if prosecuted.

Most people who operate drones professionally in Australia know that commercial operations can exist in either the licensed category or excluded category. What is less understood is that the liability profile, including who holds the liability may differ between the two categories.

Licensed Vs Excluded category drone operations

The benchmark for commercial drone operations is undoubtedly fully licensed operations. Being fully licensed means the Remote Pilot holds a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) and the company holds a Remote Operator Certificate (ReOC). When operating in the licensed category, the company is deemed the operator and they appoint a Chief Remote Pilot.

Whilst legislation generally protects employees from liability, a peculiar situation may arise under the Excluded Category where the pilot in command may find themselves joined to a legal proceeding by virtue of the fact that the Excluded Category is an individual operation and not one strictly attached to their employer.

There are perceived benefits to operating Excluded Category drone operations. For example, Excluded Category drone operations are less administratively burdensome, not requiring flight authorisations and job safety assessments. Excluded Category drone operations appear less costly with pilots not requiring licensing and the company not requiring to apply for and maintain a Remote Operator Certificate. Excluded Category drone operations are also easier to commence, currently only requiring completion of an online notification at the CASA website five days in advance of the first job.

Licensed commercial drone operations provide the greatest flexibility in terms of aircraft operating types and locations, as well as facilitates permissions, approvals and exemptions otherwise not available to the excluded category. Notwithstanding the benefits, some entities are choosing to operate in the excluded category, accepting the categories limitations, conducting commercial drone operations with various levels of compliance and success.

Excluded Category pilot liability

Excluded Category drone operations have some very significant drawbacks. The biggest drawback, for all but the smallest operators, relates not to the operator, but to the individual operating the aircraft.

As an Excluded Category drone operation, the pilot in command is, from a legal perspective, the operator of the aircraft. Due to the way in which the commonwealth government holds jurisdiction over drones, this opens the door to potentially unlimited liability to be placed upon the pilot, rather than the pilot’s employer. In short, by virtue of the definition of aircraft in the Civil Aviation Act, incidentally including drones, several pieces of ancillary regulation originally intended for manned aviation apply to drone operations.

Of potentially most significance are the Commonwealth and state legislative regimes relating to ground damage by aircraft. Under the Commonwealth Damage by Aircraft Act ‘the owner and operator of an aircraft are jointly and severally liable for bodily injury or property damage caused by an aircraft accident without proof of intention, negligence or other cause of action.

In essence, this legislation sets up a system where someone will always be liable, in the case of excluded operations, the pilot is included, potentially to an unlimited amount. This liability stands if there is a loss to a third party, regardless of the fault or otherwise of the liable party (read pilot).

Due to the fact drones commonly utilised in the Excluded Category are usually at the lower end of the market it is foreseeable that at some point an issue will be encountered. How a Remote Pilot prepares for and handles the situation will dictate exposure to third parties. A Remote Pilot trained by a quality organisation would usually expect things to go wrong and have a plan for if and when abnormal operations occur.

Drones a business critical item

Drones have become business critical and whilst operations remain safe everyone can continue to enjoy the benefits of this valuable tool. The above does not mean that Excluded Category drone operations are useless or that it shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes, simply that employees and employers should consider the pros and cons carefully prior to deciding not to become certified and licensed. Particularly given the now relative ease and low cost in obtaining a Remote Pilot Licence and Remote Operator Certificate. Training is also available for the issue of individual public liability insurance for those that choose to operate Excluded Category drone operations.

The benefits of the Excluded Category are often superficial, with company authorisation, safety assessments, and some form of training arguably required in order to comply with safe work practices. Everyone’s situation is different, as to is the way in which liability will attach in the particular circumstance.

News surfaced this week of Queensland Police shooting down a drone operating close to a temporary restricted area near a Commonwealth games venue. With the Opening Ceremony for the XXI Commonwealth games on the Gold Coast due to commence in under a week, efforts to keep the 6,600 athletes and the expected tens of thousands of spectators safe, are in full swing.

In a joint effort, the Queensland Police have joint forces with the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Security to crack down on the illegal use of drones in and around the 15 plus locations throughout Queensland before and during the Commonwealth games. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority along with Airservices Australia have activated Temporary Restricted Areas to aid law enforcement agencies in policing these locations.

Similar to speeding offences on the highway, operating a drone without approval in restricted airspace, is a strict liability offence. This means that the offence can be prosecuted without the person even knowing the offence was committed. Naivety is no excuse when it comes to strict liability.

Professional drone operators who have undertaken training with a reputable drone training provider should understand the significance of restricted areas and how to obtain approval to operate within that airspace. Those that do not hold a Remote Pilot Licence and Remote Operator Certificate are unable to gain approval for operations within restricted airspace and must avoid the area. Operations in and around Temporary Restricted Areas come with unique challenges including identifying if, and when they exist.

The main difference associated with Temporary Restricted Areas (TRA’s) is that due to their temporary nature, they do not appear on many charts and maps. The rules regarding operating within TRA’s remains the same as permanent Restricted Areas. Information regarding the activation times, heights of restriction and type of operation can be found in NOTAM’s and Advisory Circulars.

Certified Electronic Flight Bag’s such as Avplan-EFB highlight temporary restricted areas both active and planned. The top image is a screen shot from Avplan-EFB a certified electronic flight bag. The image clearly shows the active Temporary Restricted Area’s highlighted in red and future TRA’s in yellow with the relevant NOTAM (activation message) information.

avplan shows temporary restricted areas

The bottom image is from CASA’s “Can I Fly There” app. Amongst other apps it makes no mention as to any temporary restricted areas (CASA’s “ can I fly there ” app not for professionals)

CASA can i fly there app does not show temporary restricted areas

 

Temporary Restricted areas are not a new thing and common in Australia. The key to identifying and/or operating in these areas, professional drone training from an organisation intimate with the Australian airspace system.

Starting and growing a business can be a challenging prospect. For Daniel Williams, a young Melbournian, visiting the World of Drones expo was key decision to grow a business out of his passion for drones. The World of Drones Congress is an international forum for everyone including business, government, investors and enthusiasts of drones, held annually in Brisbane. Aviassist, a commercial drone training company, exhibiting at the World of Drones congress offered Daniel a drone scholarship to a gain a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL). With stronger and clearer rules in place for operating drones for increased safety, this was a valuable development for the future of his involvement with drones.

Since Aviassist launched in 2008 there has been a strong commitment to ensuring aviation activities are made safe, straight forward and stress-free, part of this commitment is community participation. One avenue is the provision of an annual drone scholarship to young Australians. Aviassist looks for those passionate about making a positive contribution to Australian business utilising drone technology. Daniel was chosen in 2017 as he was highly ambitious and motivated to succeed. Daniel was already operating a business in the excluded category, a category which does not require formal training or licensing. The restrictions in place for the excluded category are crippling in a business sense, limitations on where and what you can fly significantly limits the chance of being successful. Being licensed now means Daniel can fly better quality sensors, in more places with a level of protection expected by large clients.

Following the completion of the training Aviassist provided mentorship for Daniel’s business DJ Aerial Photography to gain a Remote Operator Certificate (ReOC). Since completing the scholarship, Daniel’s business has incorporated larger aircraft capable of carrying multiple sensors to give a level of detail not previously available for his clients. Flights have been conducted at night and new sensors such as Forward Looking Near Infrared (FLIR) offer new income streams for his business. The team at Aviassist look forward to following his success.

drone scholarship

 

On Tuesday, Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s Director of Aviation Safety, Shane Carmody, signed an instrument relating to drone operations aimed to significantly reduce the chance of drone operations interfering with piloted aircraft.

Today we announced new stronger and clearer rules for flying drones to help drone flyers operation with increased safety.

The new rules will better protect people and aircraft from drones and have been developed in response to community concerns about drone safety and the rapid increase in the number of drone operators.

They do not apply to all drone flyers. If you hold a remote pilot license (RePL) and operation according to a remotely piloted aircraft operator certificate (ReOC) or have an authorisation from CASA, you will be excempt from the new measures. Model aircraft operating under CASA approvals are also excempt.

The new rules essentially exclude unlicensed drone pilots from operating within 5.5km (3 nautical miles) of all but the smallest airports. Unlicensed drone operations are now prohibited in the vicinity of every airport whilst there are piloted aircraft operating. With the large quantity of flight training and other light aircraft operations that are conducted at secondary and regional airports around the country, the consequence of the rules is that there are now large areas throughout the country that are, effective immediately, no-go areas.

  • Unlicensed drone operations not to be conducted within 3 nautical miles of controlled airports
  • Unlicensed drone operations not to be conducted within 3 nautical miles of an uncontrolled airport where piloted aircraf are operatiing
  • Unlicensed drone operations not to be conducted above 400 feet above ground level
  • Unlicensed drone operations to avoid areas where emergency services are operating
  • Unlicensed drone operations to remain 30 metres from people

The move certainly has clear aviation safety positives; under the prior rules drone pilots holding no aviation-specific training were able to operate in close vicinity to piloted aircraft. Whilst there were certainly very good operators who took the time to upskill, there has unfortunately been a significant number of operators who have not. The new rules appear to be a clear message from CASA, if you want to operate near piloted aircraft you need to be professionally trained and suitably qualified.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has been under increasing pressure as the senate enquiry into the regulatory requirements that impact the safe us of drones continues.  The new rules do not apply to fully certified operators, presumably due to the increased situational awareness and aviation knowledge gained through the training for a remote pilot licence such as the courses offered by Aviassist.

For those operators presently operating in the excluded category however it appears the restrictions will apply. There is an exclusion from the directive for persons who hold an ‘authorisation’ or ‘exemption’ from CASA. The Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Cth) dictates that exemptions must be in the form of a legislative instrument, no such instrument has been issued by CASA in relation to the excluded category. Presumably, the term ‘authorisation’ in the instrument refers to a ‘civil aviation authorisation’ which, according to the definition in the Act, appears to relate to something issued by CASA to an individual or entity such as a licence or certificate. CASA does not issue such documents to excluded category operators. Indeed by the very definition, excluded category operators are excluded from requiring authorisation.

Obviously, the new rules will have a significant impact on the many thousand excluded category operators however given the relative ease in obtaining quality remote pilot training and certification, smart operators see this change as a further reason to differentiate and grasp the opportunity to move to a higher standard.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) should be highly commended on releasing the “ can I fly there ” app removing the need for interpretation in where unlicensed drone pilots can fly. The same rules don’t apply for certified drone operators and use of the “ can I fly there ” app will sell your business short.

The ” can i fly there ” app is based around the excluded drone category rules. Since the release, there has been confusion on exactly where certified operators can operate  flying under a Remote Operators Certificate. For example.

A client calls to conduct a job within Sydney harbour, checking the “ can if fly there ” app a “no fly zone appears for a restricted area.

restricted airspace

Restricted airspace, active or not, is shown as a no fly zone in the CASA “ can I fly there ” app. Certified operators should be trained to the level of  being able to understand if restricted airspace is active or not. If the restricted airspace is not active, the airspace reverts to uncontrolled. If the restricted airspace is active, such as Sydney harbour, approval can easily be gained to operate in the area

The procedures in the operations manual of a Remote Operator state how flights should be conducted around an uncontrolled aerodrome. The restrictions in the CASA “ can I fly there ” app, with regard to heliports with an instrument approach do not apply, nor do the additional height restrictions or extra distance applied to departure and approach.

excluded category

The weather information in the CASA “ can I fly there ” app is uncertified at best, 16 gusting 26knots 5km away on inspection shows a wind of 11knots well within limits of most aircraft when conditions were most certainly unsuitable.

weather for drone operations

metar

Professional operators should invest in an electronic flight bag such as Avplan (which app should I use) Any good training organisation has spent considerable time explaining the methods to ensure drone operations are safe in all areas. Relevant maps/charts and frequencies explained and support provided in the background for those trickier situations.

While it may be tempting to use CASA’s free app, the investment of less than $100 for a good electronic flight bag will pay dividends to your business, training by a professional organisation will also pay dividends to your business.

Aviassist and Officeworks have partnered to bring professional online training to Australian business taking advantage of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s excluded drone category. The excluded category is the perfect way for Australian business to dip their toe in utilising drones commercially.

Excluded category

The excluded category is a category of remote aircraft where no formal licence requirements exist. Commercial operators can fly remote aircraft less than 2kg and landowners up to 25kg within the standard operating conditions. Operators must register for the excluded category with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority five days prior to the commencement of commercial operations.

excluded category

What does the excluded category training entail?

The course has been designed by Aviassist with drones sold through Officeworks specifically in mind. The drone training is conducted through Aviassist’s online training portal and consists of a number of modules to ensure operations are conducted safely within the limitations of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s standard operating conditions. Online Modules include

  • Aircraft General Knowledge
  • Air Law
  • Aircraft Specific information
  • How to’s
  • Use of applications to automate your drone

Students can follow on with flight training to gain public liability insurance in the excluded category or conduct further training for the issue of a Remote Pilot Licence up to 25kg. (RePL)

How to gain access to the excluded category training package

Excluded category training packages are available at any of Officeworks 163 stores Australia wide or online as part of the business services range. Access to training material is provided for 12 months and can be downloaded as an electronic publication.

officeworks drone training

An aviation radio is a valuable tool to commercial drone pilots for gaining situational awareness but they are only useful when tuned in to the appropriate frequency. The frequency to use will be dictated by the location you are flying.

Major Airports (Controlled Airspace)

Australian airspace

Operations within three nautical miles of a controlled airport requires specific approval for commercial drone pilots. The approval will specify frequency to use during the operation. Outside of three nautical miles, commercial drone pilots do not need specific approval and the frequency to use will depend on the airspace class. Within controlled airspace, piloted aircraft are separated by air traffic control. There are two types of controlled airspace within Australia that reach the ground, Class C airspace and Class D airspace.

Within Class C airspace, traffic separation is managed by a radar operator, think keeping the blips on the radar screen apart. As such, it is the frequency of the radar operator that is used in Class C Airspace. This frequency is known as the Flight Information Area (FIA) or “area frequency” and is published on aviation maps and charts.

Within Class D airspace, traffic separation is managed by the tower, think a set of binoculars peering out the window. As such, it is the frequency of the tower that is used in Class D airspace. This information can be found in the airport’s information contained within the Enroute Supplement Australia (ERSA) and aviation maps and charts. Some airports feature multiple tower frequencies for different runways. In this case, it is best to check with the air traffic control unit for the best frequency to use.

There is no need to think of the air traffic control unit as “the big scary people in the tower” they are there to help and will appreciate the ability to make contact with commercial drone pilots where necessary. It is important for commercial drone pilots to understand that these frequencies are used to manage large volumes of traffic in a safe and efficient manner. Air Traffic controllers have hundreds of lives in their hands at any one time. Use of the frequency should be restricted to a listening watch unless instructed otherwise or it becomes apparent there may be a traffic conflict.

Minor airports (Uncontrolled Airspace)

Minor airports don’t have the luxury of an air traffic control service. In fact, most airports in Australia don’t have control towers. This leaves it up to pilots to organise separation between themselves. Discreet frequencies have been allocated for pilots and commercial drone pilots to use to communicate directly with each other. These frequencies are known as the Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies or CTAF. The Common Traffic Advisory Frequency can be found in the airport’s information contained within the Enroute Supplement Australia (ERSA) as well as aviation maps and charts. Some airports don’t have a discreet frequency listed and the default CTAF of 126.70 is used.

Position broadcasts are made by both pilots and commercial drone pilots within a CTAF. Piloted aircraft begin to make position broadcasts ten nautical miles away from the airport or while taxiing for departure. It is usually mandatory for commercial drone operators to use the radio within three nautical miles of the airport with ten nautical miles being recommended. There are some other intricacies to the airspace system resulting in times piloted aircraft not equipped with a radio may be operating around uncontrolled airports, so it is still important to keep a good lookout.

Unlisted airports

Airports that don’t appear on any aviation maps or charts use the Flight Information Area or “Area Frequency”. Broadcasts on this frequency are kept to a minimum as this frequency is also used by air traffic control from one of two main centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.

drone frequency

For commercial drone pilots to legally use the air band range of frequencies in Australia you will need an Aviation Radio Operators Certificate (AROC). Aviassist includes the AROC as part of all Remote Pilot Licence training courses or the AROC course can be taken individually. This certification is the key to opening the amount of locations commercial drone pilots can operate.

Why you should be talking in altitude when your drone is telling you something else

Civil Aviation Safety Authority drone regulations specify a drone can only be flown 400ft above ground level without further approval. Air band radio is the perfect tool, sometimes mandatory, to keep situationally aware of other air traffic in the vicinity. Does being a responsible drone pilot and flying per the rules keep drone pilots out of trouble?

Consider this:

A flight has been requested from a local golf course. The elevation of the terrain is 79ft. With due diligence, the flight is flown at 400ft above ground level. As required a radio call is made detailing the drone is 400ft Above Ground Level (AGL). A nearby aircraft has called at 500ft (ignoring the small elevation). Both crews assume 100ft separation, the aircraft pass with 21ft (7 metres) separation

Drone Height

Small drones typically take a sample of the air pressure when the aircraft first initialises. This is then ground zero. Height is now measured above this point and displayed for the pilot to use. A drone can be flown at a negative height reading due to this. This information is of no significant use to describe the position in the real world.

dji drone height

Drone regulations

Drone regulations in Australia stipulate the aircraft will not be flown above 400ft AGL (Above Ground Height). This information is not directly available from the drone, interpretation of aviation charts is required to ensure operations remain within Civil Aviation Safety Regulations drone regulations. A flight flown off the top of a mountain must follow the terrain down.

Aircraft altitude

Piloted aircraft and larger Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems operate on altitude. Altitude is the height above mean sea level, or height above the sea level pressure of the day. Seldom are pilots calculating the exact height above the ground. To calculate the altitude of the operation, find the elevation and add the height above the ground. Drone regulations alone do not requirethe calculation of altitude.

Know the definition, the datum and the difference

Knowing the difference between drone height, height above the ground (AGL) and altitude seems so inconsequential, particularly when drone manufactures confuse meanings so often.  Drones and drone pilots are part of the airspace system. Speaking in the same terms as other airspace users is essential for separation and integration. Simply describing the height above the take off point or height above the ground isn’t good enough. A three-dimensional position must be described concisely to a person moving 8 kilometres per minute or 133 metres every second.

drone height

The importance of weather is often overlooked in commercial drone operations. Understanding the weather can make your commercial drone operations safer, more efficient and improve the quality of your work. There are a few key considerations when looking at the weather for your commercial drone operations.

Wind

Each Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) used in your commercial drone operations has a wind limit. The wind limit for the aircraft should be published in the aircraft’s flight manual. These limits are put in place to ensure the stability of the system and ensure that the RPAS will have enough forward speed to penetrate the wind. These are two very important factors to capture quality stable images and bring the aircraft home at the end of the job.

Sudden changes in the wind velocity and/or direction is another important consideration for commercial drone operations. Whenever the wind is steady, the aircraft will behave the same, when the wind suddenly changes, the aircraft’s stability is affected (think turbulence in an airliner). A drone positioned in consistent wind will be far more stable than one positioned behind an obstacle where the wind is constantly changing. Some aircraft also feature a wind gust limit.

Cloud

The amount and type of cloud is another important consideration for your commercial drone operations, the biggest factor of cloud is the change in light conditions. Depending on the purpose of your flight, the importance of cloud will change. A day with scattered cloud might hinder an orthophoto flight but not affect a local video flight.

When the lighting conditions change and the settings on the sensor do not, the result will be changing amounts of light let into the sensor producing darker and lighter areas. When creating models from changing light conditions the data is noisy and creates more work in post processing. Try and capture when the light is consistent.

Visibility and precipitation

There are legal minimum requirements for visibility and low visibility will also affect the quality of work. With most commercial drones being limited in wet weather, knowing if precipitation will come in the form of showers or widespread rain will make the difference between getting the job done or not.

Weather tools

Being equipped with the knowledge to find the best day of the week and the best part of the day to conduct commercial drone operations will significantly save time. Instead of waiting to see if the weather improves in the field, activities more conducive to the success of the business can be undertaken.

Mean Sea Level charts can assist in finding the best day of the week. These charts can give an indication of wind direction, interpreting the characteristics of the surface the airflow has been travelling over will allow anticipation of the weather on a given day. They also give an indication of stability and cloud type for those equipped with the knowledge.

The Channel 7 news and other “weather” news services will tell you there is the chance of a shower today… but when? Millions of people’s lives depend on aviation weather forecasts every day and they are some of the most accurate forecasts available, continually updated. Not only do they describe the weather conditions, they break the day into segments describing the weather in each part of the day. They are available for most locations and give accurate weather information 12-36 hours in advance. It could be the difference between wasting 4 hours to drive to location or a better utilisation of time towards the success of the business.

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