New drone rules tighten unlicensed drone operations

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.

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