In September 2017, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) began the first stages of its drone safety review, on which a discussion paper on the range of safety issues to be examined during the review was released. Responses to the discussion paper were released in December 2017, with CASA aiming to provide a final report in early 2018.

The review is considering CASA’s current approach to the regulation of drone operations, particularly the relative safety benefits and cost effectiveness of: introducing mandatory registration, education and training for all drone operators, the deployment of geo-fencing capabilities and any other mechanisms to enhance aviation safety and manage the risks associated with drones in Australian airspace.

The review is also being informed by the most recent Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 101 amendments and take into account recommendations developed by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Standards subcommittee.

According to Corporate Communications Manager at CASA, Peter Gibson, rapid technological change and innovation are key drivers behind the review.

“The rules have been in place since 2003 and have served Australians well, but technology has changed dramatically as has the use of drones. So it was sensible to begin the process of reviewing the drone safety regulations. A range of issues have been raised publicly about drones in recent times and the key ones are canvassed in the discussion paper,” said Mr Gibson.

“The discussion paper looks at key issues such as drone registration, mandatory training and experience for drone pilots, mandatory geo-fencing and counter drone technology. A challenge for CASA is informing and educating people flying drones who are not part of the mainstream aviation community.”

Gathering industry input

Members of the public and stakeholders from a variety of industries were encouraged to submit their responses to the discussion paper by 29 September 2017 to help inform CASA of the most pressing updates to drone safety regulations.

“CASA always consults widely before making regulatory changes. While CASA has a wealth of aviation experts and expert knowledge we do not hold all the wisdom about aviation safety. Consultation is one of the keys to making good safety rules,” said Mr Gibson.

CASA received 910 responses to the discussion paper and a final report was due to be released at the start of the year. More than 85 per cent of respondents supported some form of drone registration, with three registration options offered: by drone; by owner; by operator. Responses were split relatively evenly between the three options but drone size was also favoured as a determining factor in deciding the criteria for registration.

The majority of respondents (more than 85 per cent) supported the concept of mandatory training or proficiency criteria in some circumstances, but less than a quarter considered it necessary for all drone operators.
The introduction of mandatory geo-fencing received limited support, with most respondents choosing to answer no. The nature of responses showed that geo-fencing and counter-drone technology were generally perceived as too aggressive and many felt that more education, rather than punishment, was a better route to improved safety.

Supporting the drone community

The organisation is also evaluating the effectiveness of its own operating model to ensure it continues to strike a balance between maintaining high levels of safety and supporting the technological and operational growth of the drone community, while staying abreast of developments within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other international aviation safety agencies.

“CASA is very supportive of drone technology. We have facilitated many research and trial projects. Right now an important drone home delivery trial being run by a Google company is underway outside Canberra,” Mr Gibson said.

“This company chose to come to Australia for the trial due to our accommodating regulatory structure. CASA wants drones to play a key role in society – but of course this must be done while protecting public safety.”

There are strict penalties for drone operators who do not comply with safety regulations, including fines of up to $10,000 and the possibility of appearing in court.

“CASA has an online reporting tool for drone breaches and encourages people to report using this tool. Where evidence is available, CASA will investigate and where breaches can be proven, penalties will be issued,” Mr Gibson said.

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