Australia was one of the first countries in the world to introduce legislation governing the operation of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), commonly referred to as drones. 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.
Since that time the RPA sector in Australia, as elsewhere in the world, has experienced enormous growth, driven by advancements in technology that continue to fuel commercial and recreational consumer demand, while providing easier access to increasingly sophisticated devices at relatively low cost. 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. The vast majority of RPA owners and operators are recreational users who require neither a RePL nor a ReOC. It is estimated that there are at least 50,000 drones being operated in Australia today, mostly for sport and recreational purposes.
Globally, aviation safety regulators are facing the same kinds of challenges: to maintain high levels of safety without unnecessarily impeding progress or unduly constraining commercial opportunities to use a technology capable of a multitude of beneficial humanitarian, economic and recreational applications. Responding to these challenges, CASA introduced important amendments to the regulations that took effect in September 2016.
Why We Are Consulting
While reducing the regulatory burden on some commercial uses of RPA, the regulations continue to require all drone operators to comply with the basic safety requirements set out in the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the regulations. In fact, the recent amendments to Part 101 of CASR included a set of generally applicable standard operating conditions designed to enhance the high level of safety already provided under the existing rules. The Notice of Final Rule Making for these amendments is expected to be released shortly.
We recognise, of course, that departures from these requirements—deliberate or unintentional—can heighten those risks, and that effective action to address, and where possible to prevent, such departures is essential. To that end, CASA has continued with a major education program about the safe and compliant operation of RPAs. CASA’s drone safety awareness campaign is estimated to have reached more than a million people through our social media channels. It also includes targeted advertising through other media to explain the regulations for recreational and sub-2kg (very small) RPA users.
I recognise the ongoing need for existing aviation safety requirements to be reviewed, critically assessed and updated in response to emerging risks, new technologies, international regulatory developments, and the advice and views from other Government, industry and community stakeholders. Therefore, I look forward to your responses to this discussion paper.
I appreciate your commitment in time and effort in providing comments on these important issues, and I thank you in advance for your contributions.
A copy of the discussion paper is provided below. You can read it on this screen using the scroll bar or download it here.