Commercial drones without a licence

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has now introduced an excluded Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) category that allows certain drones to be flown in certain situations without without the requirement for a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) or a Remote Operators Certificate (ReOC).

CASA introduces the new ‘Excluded RPA’ category.For those who are currently unlicensed, the changes may be a pathway to enter commercial drone flying without the initial need to invest in commercial pilot certification. So let’s take a closer look to see if this new excluded Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) category will suit your needs.

Top three things to consider before operating commercially in the excluded RPA category:
• Is my aircraft in the excluded category
• Is the area of operations in the excluded category
• Is public liability insurance available

Is my aircraft in the excluded RPA category?

Aircraft are categorised by weight class. The following table shows when an aircraft weight category falls into the excluded RPA category and so doesn’t require a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) or Remote Operators Certificate (ReOC).

drone categories

As shown in the table, commercial operations may be undertaken without a remote pilot licence if the aircraft is <2kg, while Landholders may operate <25kg aircraft that they own on their own property for commercial gain. Landholders are also able to operate aircraft <150kg on their own property without a Remote Operators Certificate (ReOC) provided they have a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL).

Is the area of operations in the excluded category?

Excluded RPA are only permitted to fly under the following “standard operating conditions”.

• You must not operate your RPA in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person or property.
• You must only fly during the day and keep your RPA within visual line-of sight.
• You must not fly your RPA higher than 120 metres (400ft) above ground level (AGL).
• You must keep your RPA at least 30 metres away from other people.
• You must keep your RPA at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes
• You must not fly your RPA over any populous areas. These can include beaches, parks and sporting ovals.
• You must not fly your RPA over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway (without prior approval).
• You must not fly your RPA in prohibited or (RA3) restricted airspace
• You can only fly one RPA at a time.
There are further details available in Advisory Circular 101-10 which must also be agreed to prior to flying in the excluded category.

Is public liability insurance available?

A significant issue for those wanting to operate a business using the excluded RPA category exemptions is obtaining public liability insurance. Insurers aren’t currently offering public liability insurance to excluded RPA operators as the risk to insurers for untrained operator’s remains high. For certified operator’s public liability insurance is readily available and reasonably priced protecting those that have decided to invest in appropriate training. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority strongly recommends public liability insurance but falls short of requiring insurance for operations.

Insurance is an important business decision that is complicated by the poor reliability and safety record of drone technology – see Safe flying with unsafe drone tech?

The lack of insurance options means that for most of us the excluded RPA category will be something to add to our recreational flying rather than starting a business. It is likely that industry will drive the requirement for insurance

Pros and cons of operating in the excluded category

The pros are that it is easier to dip your toe in the water and get started operating drones commercially without as much financial outlay. However, the lack of investment in training leaves you with the training wheels on. Those that are certified are able to get approvals and exemptions to navigate outside the standard area, obtain insurance for larger clients and fly larger aircraft carrying better sensors.

If you want a hobby that pays, the excluded category is the perfect framework to allow you to conduct some low risk commercial work. For the professional, the additional benefits of certification offer new and exciting avenues to explore.

How to apply for excluded RPA operations

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has a registration portal that is set to go live on the 22nd September 2016 to register for excluded RPA operations.

The first step is to apply for an Aviation Reference Number (ARN) which is your unique identifier with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Note that this is also the first step in beginning your commercial RePL training. Once you have received your ARN you can sign into the CASA website and begin the registration process.

From there select the type of operation you are applying for, the area you will be operating and submit. You will need to wait 5 days before you commence your first commercial operations.

We recommend signing up right away

The new excluded RPA category essentially gives you the ability to legally sell those gem images or video that turn up from time to time just from being in the right place at the right time. For those that are enthusiastic amateurs with light weight DJI phantom or GoPro Karma there is essentially no downside to signing up. The standard flying restrictions are similar as for recreational flying. The upside is greater awareness of CASA and safe flying, along with the ability to make a little money if everything goes right.

For the exclusion to be legal you need to be signed up and have CASA informed at least 5 days before beginning any commercial flying. Our advice is to sign up asap so that you are prepared when that unexpected shot comes your way.

Some times you are just in the right place at the right time to capture the magic.

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