Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority has amended legislation governing the use of drones in the country to allow aircraft under 2kg to be flown commercially without an expensive licence.
The changes will take effect on September 29 this year. They will remove what can be a $2000, 6 month application process for prospective drone users looking to fly a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) for business purposes.
Currently only hobbyists are allowed to fly RPAs without this certification.
Despite the change, the new amendments demand that sub-2kg commercial drone operators notify CASA before flying, and that they abide by a set of operating conditions.
Failure to do so will constitute an offence under the CASA Act. The authority intends to maintain a database of who has flown their drones and where.
Commercial drone users will also still need to keep within CASA’s strict RPA flight rules, such as remaining within line-of-sight of the aircraft; staying no less than 30 metres away from vehicles, boats, buildings or people; not flying over populous areas; and not flying higher than 120 metres in controlled airspace.
CASA has also opened up the regulations to allow landowners to carry out “commercial-like” operations on their own land with aircraft weighing up to 25kg without an operator’s licence, as long as no one involved is being paid to do so.
Fully autonomous drone flights remain prohibited under the CASA rules without special approval for the time being.
However, the authority has flagged scope for "autonomous flight to be approved by CASA on a case-by-case basis” until it is able to draft new amendments to regulate these riskier operations.
The latest changes also formally move CASA’s preferred terminology from “unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)” to “remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)”.
CASA said it was pleased to have achieved the “long anticipated” amendments, and said it expected to be able to release more details in the six months before the changes take effect.