Drones set for a commercial take off with CASA proposing rules

March 1, 2013 |

The ABC, per Mark Corcoran, undertakes the latest detailed analysis of Drones,  This time, in Drones set for large-scale commercial take-off the issue is that the Civil Aviation Authority is about to provide rules to permit the use of drones.

It provides:

Hundreds of small commercially operated drones could soon take to Australian skies under a radical new set of rules proposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Melbourne this week.

Under a new weight class system, prospective drone entrepreneurs with craft weighing 2 kilograms or less could take off after completing nothing more than an online application form.

CASA officials say they want to encourage use of this emerging technology, but the drone plan will be forced to dodge flak from opponents who have raised serious concerns over safety and privacy.

 In the practise nets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a taut Shane Warne confronted an expressionless drone. Robocop in cricket whites? Almost.

The legendary spin bowler was appearing in a Fox Sports promotion for the Twenty20 Big Bash League.

But the real star of the promo was FoxKopter, a small camera-drone deployed over several games this season. Flying 30 metres clear of the spectators, FoxKopter provided TV audiences with an up close and personal view of the match play. After a successful summer, the drone has already been deployed for the National Rugby League.

From sport to news gathering to lifesaving patrols, there are dozens of potential civilian applications of drone technology. Currently there are just 33 CASA-approved commercial drones operators in Australia, mainly deployed on scientific research, surveying and aerial photography.

The approvals process can take months and costs thousands of dollars, with applicants required to complete about 90 per cent of a conventional private pilot’s course.

That will abruptly change if CASA introduces the new rules on small ‘Unmanned Aerial Systems’ (UAS), more commonly called drones, operating commercially in Australian skies.

But CASA is also responding to the rapid, uncontrolled spread of high performance drone technology in Australia.  Director of aviation safety John McCormick concedes he has no way of effectively enforcing regulations on those who don’t want to fly by the rules.

This week in Melbourne he told a conference organised by industry lobby group The Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems Australia that there could already be up to 100 drones operating illegally.

“We think that for every one we know of there are two or three that we do not,” he said.

The problem for CASA is that small drone technology is now proliferating at an extraordinary rate, with capability and performance doubling every 18 months, while the price and size of the craft continues to plummet.

Currently $2,000 typically buys you a small, high performance multi-rotor the size of a wheelie bin lid, equipped with HD live stream video cameras, GPS, autopilot, top speed of 70 kilometres per hour, with a range of two to three kilometres and a 15-20 minute flight time.

Most of these craft are legally flown by hobbyists who are required to stay below 400 feet, and operate only in daylight, well away from airports and areas of high population density. These recreational flyers are not required to undertake training or register their craft.

There are no accurate records on the numbers of small drones now in Australia, as they are often assembled locally from components ordered online from overseas. Hobbyists and retailers speculate that about 100 new multi-rotors and fixed wing drones are now taking to Australian skies each week.

For CASA’s John McCormick, it’s a regulatory nightmare.

“The cat’s out of the bag, long ago, long ago,” he says.

“The way you manage this is you manage it through Customs, you say you can’t bring one in, just like they did with laser pointers, yes? You can’t bring them in.

“But that’s not my decision, I’ve got to work with what I’ve got.

“That’s a decision for Government, that’s a decision for other people to use or implement, be they Customs or Federal Police or somebody. But from our point of view, once it’s out there, I can’t pass a law I know I can’t enforce.”

John McCormick’s skies are being further darkened by growing swarms of smaller craft, marketed as toys.

Weighing in at just 700 grams, the $350 Parrot AR Drone 2.0. boasts HD cameras and a more modest range of 50 metres.

Optional extras now include a plug in GPS, and tests on new control systems have pushed the range out to one kilometre, batteries permitting.

The Parrot Company refuses to reveal sales figures, but leading industry website sUAS News claims 500,000 have been sold worldwide since it was first launched in 2010.

“The very lightweight thing you can buy in Harvey Norman or any toyshop somewhere, am I going to go out and tell that guy or woman to get an operators certificate? I can’t write a regulation I know I can’t enforce – I can. But it’s bad law,” John McComick says.

So CASA is writing some rules it can control. Pending consultation with industry, the Authority will re-categorise all commercial drones in four weight classes, to be flown under the same rules as hobbyists until they receive specific exemptions.

Operators of the smallest Group A, weighing 2kg or less, will simply be able to fill out an online authorisation form, receive electronic approval, and start flying.

Senior CASA officer Jim Coyne says the safety risk posed by this group is negligible, comparable to being hit by a cricket ball.

“A cricket ball weights about 160 grams, but at 100 kilometres per hour, [with a] kinetic energy of about 62 joules….there’s been no recorded incident of anyone being killed by a cricket ball in the stand,” he says.

“The potential for harm and the consequence is very low.

“We talk about a harmless UAS, causing minimal harm to a person. If it hits them on the head it will give them a headache. If it hits them in the back it will give them a bit of a bruise, but it is not going to kill you.”

 The bigger the drone, the more stringent the controls. The 2-7 kilogram class will require a risk assessment, and CASA will provide a half-dozen-page rule book.

“Potential for harm goes up, still it’s not going to do a lot of damage … that’s seven kilograms, about the weight of a six-month-old baby, at 14 knots, or 26 kilometres per hour,” Jim Coyne says.

He says operators proposing to launch the biggest drones in Group D will face greater scrutiny.

“For example, the Scan Eagle weighs about 20kg, it can fly at about 15,000 feet, it can be on station for 20-plus hours, and flies about 120kph. It can fly to New Zealand, it can fly internationally … that person will be licensed, that person will have a full risk assessment, and it will be treated like a real aircraft.”

Globally, civilian drones are set to become big business, eventually eclipsing the military market. US aviation analysts the Teal Group forecasts $US89 billion will be spent in the combined military/civil sector over the next decade

Despite growing industry and community pressure, CASA’s John McCormick insists there will be no compromises.

“Safety is the number one priority, that’s the only reason CASA exists,” he says.

CASA can expect some heavily flak from sections of the piloted aviation community, which points out that drones carry no effective systems to avoid collisions.

Last year a commercial helicopter pilot, who requested he not be named, told the ABC he had already had one near miss with an unidentified drone.

What the FAA says about drones:

Federal agencies are planning to increase their use of UAS’s. State and local governments envision using UAS’s to aid in law enforcement and firefighting. Potential commercial uses are also possible, for example, in real estate photography or pipeline inspection. UAS’s could perform some manned aircraft missions with less noise and fewer emissions.

 And in November 2011, a Royal Australian Navy target-towing jet encountered an unidentified drone while flying at 3,000 feet, 65 nautical miles east of Jervis Bay in NSW.

The mystery drone was not operated by the Australian or US military, nor any of the certified civilian operators.

While most operators do fly responsibly, drones will crash, and the small-drone-disaster is becoming a popular YouTube genre.

One recent clip from Brazil no doubt sent shudders through the Fox TV/Foxkopter camp: A phone camera recorded the worst-case sports scenario, as a small drone tracked across a football stadium before veering off course and into the crowded terraces. 

No-one appeared to be injured, but 5kg of carbon fibre and alloy, propelled at 40kph by several spinning rotors, still generates a lot of what aviation engineers call “kinetic energy”.

In lay terms this translates as being hit by a flying lawn mower.

Who watches the watchers?

But perhaps the biggest challenge to CASA’s drone future is privacy.

In 2012 the US Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to integrate drones in domestic airspace by 2015.

The FAA estimated 15,000 civil and commercial drones could be flying by 2020, and as many as 30,000 by 2030.

The ACLU’s view

Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a “surveillance society” in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinised by the government. Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (nonlethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas.

Now this ambitious timetable is stalling. The pro-drone lobby is locked in an epic struggle with growing numbers of US privacy advocates, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is concerned by the mass surveillance capabilities of this technology and its potential misuse by police.

US state and regional governments have also begun banning civilian drone operations in their locales before the concept has even taken off.

Australia has yet to have its drone debate. Given the implications of CASA’s proposed reforms, Government sources tell the ABC it is unlikely any changes could be implemented before the federal election in September.

Last year Federal Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim told the ABC he was concerned by the patchwork of federal and state laws that may or may not cover various civilian drone activities, and the ability of police to operate drones without a warrant.

He requested that Commonwealth, state and New Zealand attorneys general meet to formulate a coherent overall strategy for this emerging technology.

That hasn’t happened yet.

In stark contrast to the United States, public opinion in Australia remains finely balanced by disinterest.

If a drone is used to assist in the rescue of the drowning swimmer, perhaps widespread acceptance will follow. But if a multi-rotor gets sucked into the engine of an Airbus on take-off from Mascot, we may well see drone control right up there alongside gun control.

The list of operators are (here):

Company ARN Number Town/City State CASA Office Operations
Advanced UAV 810647 1-SOU2L Sunshine Coast QLD Eastern Aerial photography,  aerial survey
Aerial Photography Specialists 780525 1-ARQTH Adelaide SA Central Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline
Aerial Pix 788525 1-EQ76X Gold Coast QLD Eastern Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline
Aerometrex Pty Ltd 811080 1-UZCA9 Adelaide SA Central Aerial survey
Aerosonde 585156 VT585156-U Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline
Air Affairs 585771 1-B80CB Nowra NSW Sydney Aerial photography, target drone
Airship Solutions 598006 VT598006-U Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial photography, aerial advertising, aerial survey
Autonomous Imaging Technologies Pty Ltd 812226 1-TOTFP Perth WA Western Aerial surveying, aerial photography
Avitus 785840 1-CX6SW Adelaide SA Central Aerial photography, aerial advertising, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline
Chervenko, Matthew  T/A Eyerex Solutions 586017 S586017-U Sydney NSW Sydney Aerial photography,  aerial survey
Scott, Timothy T/A Chopper Cam 439146 1-FLC2E Launceston TAS Southern Aerial photography
Coptercam 810645 1-S2B7U1 Perth WA Western Aerial photography
Cyber Tech 787686 1-ENUAW Perth WA Western Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline inspection, ‘type’ training
Electrical Resource Providers Pty Ltd 813658 1-TPC4X Golden Square VIC Southern Aerial surveying, powerline inspection, aerial photography
Falcon Overlords Pty Ltd 818063 1-VY1LJ Morewell VIC Southern Aerial surveying, aerial spotting, powerline inspection, aerial photography, UAV type training
Topping, James T/A Equinoxair 565392 W565392-U Mount Barker WA Western Aerial photography
Flightcam Australia Pty Ltd T/A Flightcam Australia 810747 1-SNQ4W Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial surveying, aerial spotting, powerline inspection, aerial photography
Flight Data Systems 568802 1-ORTCI Melbourne VIC Southern Type conversion training
Heli Guy PTY. LTD. 810057 1-S8BP9 Rose Bay NSW Sydney Aerial photography
Helimetrex 599747 SQ599747-U Brisbane QLD Eastern Aerial photography,  aerial survey
Insitu Pacific 787789 1-FLC0X Brisbane QLD Eastern Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline, type conversion training
Land Surveys No Problems Just Solutions Pty Ltd 815304 1-URV83 Perth WA Western Aerial surveying, aerial photography
Lodge, Benjamin T/A High Alpha Media 546724 1-OOD9Y Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial photography, aerial survey
Matthew Nicholas CHANG & Peter Milan MARUNCIC T/A Rotor Works Aerospace 814232 1-UTVJ9 Sydney NSW Sydney Aerial photography
Phillips, Mervyn David T/A Skycam Aerial Services 410786 1-VFT51 Perth WA Western Aerial photography, aerial spotting, aerial surveying, powerline inspection
Shift Geophysics Pty. Ltd. 810907 1-S48Z2 Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial surveying, aerial photography, powerline inspection, aerial spotting
State of Victoria – Melbourne Metro Fire & Emergency Services Board 814048 1-UN53C Melbourne VIC Southern Aerial spotting, aerial photography
UAS Pacific Pty Ltd 805473 1-QTN1J Brisbane QLD Eastern Aerial photography, aerial advertising, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline inspection
Ultimate Positioning Group Pty Ltd 814253 1-TYDEV Clayton VIC Southern Aerial surveying, aerial photography
Urban Hawk PTY LTD 814746 1-UCL03 Tullimbar NSW Sydney Aerial photography
Urli, Joseph T/A UAV Systems 586729 1-41BXV Brisbane QLD Eastern Aerial photography,  aerial survey
V-TOL Aerospace Pty Limited T/A UAV Flight Services 750709 1-31RFZ Brisbane QLD Eastern Aerial photography, aerial advertising, aerial spotting, aerial survey, powerline, surveillance
Venturecorp Pty Ltd T/A Haefeli-Lysnar Survey Equipment 816583 1-V8Z28 Perth WA Western Aerial Surveying
Yamaha Motor Australia Pty Ltd 805530 1-P2WJY Sydney NSW Sydney Aerial surveying, aerial spotting, aerial photography, agricultural operations

CASA’s proposed rules are as follows:

CASR Part 101 – Unmanned aircraft and rocket operations

Project closure

CASR Part 101 was drafted nearly 10 years ago in anticipation of civil operations of unmanned aircraft systems. Project 04/03 – “Post Implementation Review (PIR) of CASR 101” was initiated in 2004 and Project 05/01 – “Certification requirements related to the design, manufacturing and airworthiness of UAVs” was registered in April 2005. As both these projects have had limited progress up until this year, the work to date now does not reflect the path being taken by ICAO, the FAA or EASA. A new project will commence and encompass a thorough review of the advisory material, AC 101-1, followed by a PIR of the regulation CASR 101.

CASR Part 101 consolidates the rules governing all unmanned aeronautical activities into one body of legislation. It prescribes the rules for the use of unmanned moored balloons and kites, unmanned free balloons, unmanned rockets, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), model aircraft, and pyrotechnic displays.

Part 101 introduced new regulations for unmanned aircraft and firework displays but minimal change to existing regulations for balloons, rockets and model aircraft from existing Civil Aviation Orders (CAOs).

Who Part 101 affects

  • Organisations/individuals involved in unmanned balloons (including significant numbers of party balloons) and rocket operations;
  • Organisers of firework displays;
  • Model aircraft owners and operators;
  • Research and development organisations;
  • Law enforcement agencies;
  • Surveillance organisations;
  • Weather research organisations; and
  • Potential users of airborne telecommunications systems.

Key proposals

  • UAVs to be classified as either micro, small or large with separate rules applicable to each categoryWhile no change is proposed to the rules governing commercial operation of balloons, releasing large numbers of balloons at events may require CASA approval.
    • Micro UAVs are largely exempt from regulation while a small UAV may be flown by an unqualified person in certain conditions without any form of certification. A large UAV,on the other hand, is a de-facto manned aircraft and must generally be certificated and registered and its controllers qualified;
    • there are also requirements on the use of a flight radiotelephone;
    • rules are also introduced governing the certification of UAV operators and controllers.
  • Height restrictions for unmanned moored balloons, kites, model aircraft and rockets to be raised from 300ft Above Ground Level (AGL) to 400ft AGL in line with overseas practice.
  • Projectiles that are capable of reaching 400ft or more above ground level not to be used without CASA approval;
  • Restrictions to apply to fireworks displays near aerodromes and, if a display is within 3 nautical miles of an aerodrome
    • Exemptions that apply for domestic premises;
    • Requirements under relevant state and territory laws will continue to apply.

The technology will continue apace.  The CASA rule changes are purely functional in ensuring that some form of regulation governs their approval and use.  Much like road regulations govern the use of various types of vehicles. The difference is that a drone’s are used for ancillary purposes; including to photograph, to follow, to monitor.  This has immediate privacy concerns.  The Privacy Commissioner is unlikely to have any jurisdiction in most cases.  The use of the listening devices legislation might be applicable but not always.  It is also a piece of legislation which deals with criminal activity.  That excludes citizens using the relief that legislation provides.  It is a matter for police discretion.

The options available to a citizen at the moment are limited; nuisance or trespass.  Neither fits well nor do they cover the field.  A statutory right of privacy is clearly the best option but the government’s inertia is palpable.

This is another example of technology surpassing the legislature’s ability (and desire) to provide a timely response and a proper legislative framework.  In situations like this it is often an egregious breach which prompts a rapid and often knee jerk reaction from government.



3 Responses to “Drones set for a commercial take off with CASA proposing rules”

  1. James

    Very interesting article, thank you Mr. Clarke. Although this type of technology has good points and is useful, depending on the situation, I am extremely wary of how it will be used, particularly by the govt. As stated above, “public opinion in Australia remains finely balanced by disinterest.” Unfortunately this does not apply only to this issue, it applies to most issues for the general populace in Australia, and the greatest threat to Australia is APATHY, which appears to be an entrenched way of life here now and has been for some time – ‘she’ll be right mate. nothing to worry about, no worries’. Sadly, because of that I think that the time has long passed for Australians to pull their heads out of the sand, open their eyes and ears and have a good look at what is actually happening around them. The govt. here, irrespective of the party/ies in the seat, has continued over many years to introduce by stealth all manner of filthy methods into the so-called democratic system in order to suppress, oppress and control the populace without too many being a wake-up to what is actually occurring, and if you mention anything most of the time you’re branded a conspiracy theorist. This is yet again another of those tactics the govt. will be able to use, not to mention local council to spy on you even further, by contracting private corporations to do their dirty work, and there will be no shortage of them around if it is going to pay well – amazing what the holy $ can do. It will be too late to protest or do anything about the problem when there are all sorts of devices on street corners, shopping centers, highways and buzzing around to monitor your every move. What a wonderful boost for democracy. Stalin and Mao would be most pleased.

  2. James

    Thanks for the article. An insightful piece. I feel, however, that there is more at play than merely ‘drones invading and eroding’ civil liberties. Taking aim at drones and complaining about the ability to intercept communications, to follow people and to generally oversee unsuspecting citizens is misguided.

    The truth is that governments and police already have plenty of tools to achieve these goals that are limited by various laws i.e. interception of communications via computer data monitoring (as per anti-terror laws). We already have helicopters to follow criminals, and can use FLIR technology to track people miles away in poor visibility. An example of our existing capability is the recent discovery and raids on drug plantations culminating in prosecution of criminals in northern NSW.

    If the concern is that people will be watched while undertaking daily duties e.g. whilst showering, there is no more chance of this than having a person use a DSLR Camera with telephoto lens for the same effect, and at a much lower cost than setting up a ‘drone’. Certainly a 1.5kg UAS will make a lot of noise hovering outside a window and attract the attention of any people in the vicinity!

    The real risk is in people out-flying the range of their transmitters and losing control of the UAS, or flying in locations where there is a high chance of a crash (such as clipping a tree) and then crashing into a person, or flying at an altitude that interferes with other air traffic.

    CASA already has said there will be restrictions similar to those on other remote control operators for small UAS operators which hopefully will include a 400ft ceiling, and limits on low visibility conditions to eliminate major problems with air traffic.

  3. Glenn

    What is the progress of changes to 101.

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