To most people remote pilot aircraft (drones) are a relatively new phenomenon. It would surprise many people that they have actually be around for more than 15 years.
It’s only in recent years that their popularity has boomed to the point that the “Average Joe” can purchase and operate one. As drones have advanced they have become easier to operate, better quality images and can now do far more with improved battery technology.
As of 24 July 2017 there were 5,870 remotely piloted aircraft licence (RePL) holders and 1,106 remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate (ReOC) holders in Australia. This doesn’t include the number of recreational operators which is estimated to be in excess of 50,000!
CAN I FLY THERE?
As the industry or recreational sport (depending on your involvement) has grown the rules and regulations have also been developing. Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) was introduced in 2002 in response to the need for an effective regulatory framework within which the development of this rapidly evolving technology could progress without compromising the safety of other airspace users and people and property on the ground.
Over the years like all regulations and laws they have been reviewed and modified. As recently as September 2016 the introduction of a new class of operations was introduced. In short this new class (aka Sub 2kg Class) allowed operators to fly for commercial purposes without being licensed.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has taken action to a degree to help regulate and control pilots. With the introduction of their drone safety app “Can I Fly There?” operators of all standards can get advice on where it is safe to fly. Unfortunately the disclaimer with the app states it’s only a guide, so being aimed at uneducated pilots it’s not the “be all and end all” of knowledge. This means you could rely on the app as a form of defence should you fly in the wrong place or outside the regulations.
The app is a start; however it has its downfalls. As with everything new there are teething problems, but having the wrong location for airports (which are No Fly Zones) is a major issue.
A WHALE OF A TIME
Changes have been coming slowly but surely. It would seem some changes that are coming in are based on a bit more common sense (rare these days, but it does happen!).
The general rule for operating a drone near a whale has been keeping an all round distance of 300m. I understand the protection of life and particularly endangered wildlife, but personally I think 300m is a bit crazy. How much of a threat is a 2kg drone to 30,000 kilo whale?
The NSW regulations are to be changed this month to a more reasonable distance of a 100m clearance. That doesn’t open it for an unrestricted free-for-all, but there is a lot more scope for operators.
While the Australian Senate is holding an inquiry into the operations and regulations of the drone industry as a whole CASA is conducting their own public consultation. CASA has released a discussion paperwhich forms one part of the review of aviation safety regulation for remotely piloted aircraft.Now is the time to speak up either as a pilot, a business owner, or a member of the public. Drones or RPA are rapidly growing in popularity. They are finding their way into almost every industry. One day they may well be as common as the car. You may even fly to work in your own two-seater drone one day in the future!