Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) expects to have new rules governing commercial drone use in place by the end of this year, giving businesses the opportunity to incorporate unmanned aircraft into their operations without an arduous approvals process.
The aviation regulator last year flagged proposed changes that would see commercial operators exempted from having to apply for CASA approval to fly drones weighing less than 2kg.
Currently all commercial operators have to apply for a licence, a process that costs roughly $2000 with a wait time of up to six months.
However, CASA’s director of aviation safety, Mark Skidmore, told delegates at the Informa Police Technology Forum last week the changes 34re likely to be broader than just the sub-2 kg exemption.
He said the authority wanted to move towards “a more operationally-based risk approach rather than a prescriptive one based on weight alone - which in any case is a minor factor when it comes to risk to operations”.
He said the more nuanced rules CASA was considering would classify weight across a range of different groupings, as well as taking into account the speed and relative complexity of commercial operations.
At the moment, Skidmore said, small unmanned aircraft were essentially identical in risk to model planes. but attract completely different operational rules.
“We need to fix this anomaly,” he said.
Technological advances have produced lightweight yet high performance drones that could potentially fly as far as New Zealand, Skidmore pointed out.
“Thus in the interests of safety it is crucial that this operator be licenced, have a full risk assessment, and be treated more like a conventional pilot,” he said.
His team is resssessing how CASA rules define a ‘populous area’ where drone flights are prohibited without authorisation, in order to “inject a little bit more flexibility into the system” especially in the sub-2kg range.
The regulatory amendments have been given the ministerial green light and are expected to be formally signed off by the government some time this year.
Skidmore also flagged the possibility of introducing fast-tracked drone operator certificates for emergency services “particularly when life or limb is at risk”.