Due to a regulatory hole, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has lacked the authority to allow the operation of a micro RPA indoors within 30 m of a person who does not have duties essential to the control or navigation of that RPA. A new Instrument (regulation) empowers CASA to make such an authorisation.


Most of you will be familiar with Instrument number CASA 55/20 — Operation of Certain Unmanned Aircraft Directions 2020. If you’re not, it’s worth checking out and is available here. From hereon I will refer to this Instrument simply as “55/20”.

In short, 55/20 is a little piece of regulation that didn’t get into the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) but is nonetheless part of the package. In hyper-summary, it fleshes out some of the regulations around operations near aerodromes, operations higher than 400 ft AGL, operations over areas in which emergency operations are being conducted, operations of RPA and model aircraft near people, and operating multiple model aircraft and RPA – yes, some pretty important stuff.

The change

On 21 December 2020, CASA released Instrument number CASA 86/20 — Operation of Certain Unmanned Aircraft Directions Amendment Instrument 2020, which I will simply refer to as “86/20”, and which you can check out here.

86/20 is not a self-sufficient Instrument, it is simply the amendments to 55/20, that is, the words that you need to add, delete or replace in 55/20. This means that to really make sense of the changes, you need both 86/20 and 55/20 open.

86/20 made two changes to 55/20, one substantive and one just a technicality. For completeness, the technicality merely replaces the word “subregulation” with “subsection”. Ok now to the key stuff…

The significant change is the addition of 24 words to section 9 of 55/20. In order to give it context, we have reproduced section 9 of 55/20 with the amendment made in 86/20 underlined. Here goes…

9 Directions relating to the operation of RPA or model aircraft near people

(1) A person controlling an RPA or a model aircraft must ensure that the aircraft is not operated less than 30 m from a person unless the person has duties essential to the control or navigation of the aircraft.

(2) For subregulation (1), the distance of 30 m is measured in every direction from the point on the ground or surface of the water directly below the aircraft.

(3) The direction in subregulation (1) does not apply:

(aa)  to the operation indoors of a micro RPA if the person holds an approval given by CASA for the purposes of this paragraph; or

(a) to the operation of an RPA or a model aircraft in accordance with an authorisation (however called) or exemption granted under CASR that permits operation of the RPA or model aircraft less than 30 m from another person; or

(b)   if:

(i)   the person is controlling an RPA that is an airship; and

(ii)   the airship approaches no closer to the second person than 10 m horizontally and 30 ft vertically

So….what does this actually do?

The purpose of 86/20 is to amend instrument 55/20 so that the CASA may approve a person to operate a micro RPA indoors less than 30 metres from a person who does not have duties essential to its control or navigation of the aircraft.

Super quick refresher

You may recall that the definitions of RPA and Model Aircraft were amended in 2020, with RPA being defined as “a remotely piloted aircraft, other than the following: a balloon, a kite, a model aircraft”; and model aircraft being significantly amended, although there is a questions as to whether there is currently an active definition of model aircraft (which we unpacked here).

Also, you may recall that a “micro RPA” has changed from 100 g or less to not more than 250 g .

Back to the task at hand…

Section 9 of 55/20 states that a person controlling an RPA or a model aircraft must ensure that the aircraft is not operated less than 30 metres from a person unless the person has duties essential to the control or navigation of the aircraft.

Section 9(3)(a) of 55/20 permits operation of an RPA or model aircraft less than 30 metres from another person if granted an authorisation or exemption by CASA. However – stay with me here – because regulation 101.245 of CASR (which provides for the operation of RPAs near people) does not apply to micro RPAs, an exemption or an authorisation could not be issued in respect of micro RPAs (until now).

This means that, until 86/20 there was no pathway for an operator of a micro RPA to be issued an authorisation or exemption to operate closer than 30 metres from people.

What’s next?

CASA has stated that 55/20 is an interim, precautionary measure, and CASA proposes to develop further amendments to Part 101 of CASR to address the issues currently addressed by the likes of 86/20 and 55/20. It is anticipated that these further Part 101 amendments will be made by the end of 2021, if not earlier, and at that time 55/20 will be repealed.

Fly free!

The Drone Lawyer

15 February 2021

By Tom Pils

Australian lawyer specialising in drone law & the regulations surrounding this awesome & rapidly growing area of human ingenuity. Also a litigation expert representing a range of clients from foreign government formed entities to SME's. Tom's focus & passion lies in the legal landscape, or more appropriately – airways, concerning drones. His mission is to guide clients through the red-tape & regulatory risk associated with integrating & utilising drones in their operations so as to ultimately increase their productivity & profitability. Tom's background has mainly been in commercial law, disputes & litigation. Whether representing the interests of a foreign government in Australian trade marks, settling defamation proceedings against a major television broadcaster, or acting against one of the big car manufacturers in an alleged contempt of court proceedings, Tom's experience means you are in good hands should you find yourself in any kind of dispute. However, this is only if the first avenue is not possible: to avoid a dispute in the first place by negotiating a commercially sensible resolution without escalation to the Courts.