On 29 March 2016, the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment
(Part 101) Regulation 2016 (Cth) was registered. The
Regulation introduces a number of important changes to the law
governing the use of what will now be referred to as "remotely
piloted aircraft" or RPAs. This change in terminology from
"unmanned aerial vehicle" or UAV brings Australia into
line with the terminology used by the International Civil Aviation
The regulatory changes will take effect from 29 September 2016.
The changes aim to ease the burden of regulatory compliance for RPA
owners and operators, while maintaining Australia's aviation
safety standards to protect those sharing the skies with these
aircraft and those on the ground below.
The key changes include:
Categorisation of RPAs
RPA will be categorised according to gross weight: large (>
150 kg), medium (25 kg-149.999 kg), small (2 kg-24.999 kg), very
small (0.101 kg-1.999 kg) or micro (< 0.1 kg).
Easing of regulatory requirements for low risk operations
There are reduced regulatory requirements for RPAs that fall
within the definition of "excluded RPA" 1 ,
including not requiring an unmanned aircraft operator's
certificate (UOC) and a remote pilot licence (RePL).
A micro RPA is automatically defined to be an excluded RPA. A
very small, small or medium RPA can be classified as an excluded
RPA depending on whether it is being operated for the purpose of
sport or recreation, or if it is being operated:
by or on behalf of its owner
over land owned or occupied by its owner
in "standard RPA operating conditions", and
for one or more specified purposes, including aerial spotting,
aerial photography, agricultural operations and the carriage of
cargo, provided no remuneration is received by its operator or
owner, the owner or occupier of the land or any person on whose
behalf the activity is being conducted.
The standard RPA operating conditions include the RPA:
being operated within the visual line of sight of its
being operated at or below 400 feet above ground level by
not being operated within 30 metres of a person who is not
directly associated with its operation, and
not being operated in certain prohibited and restricted areas,
such as controlled aerodromes and an area in which a fire, police
or other emergency operation is being conducted without the
approval of the person in charge of that operation.
It is expected that these changes will particularly benefit
those using RPAs for aerial photography and private owners of large
parcels of farming land, who will now be permitted to carry out RPA
operations themselves on their own land using anything up to a
medium RPA without a UOC or RePL.
Manual of Standards
One of the key changes introduced allows CASA to issue a Manual
of Standards for RPAs under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation
Safety Regulations 1998 (Cth).
This will allow detailed operational matters to be dealt with in
the Manual as and when they arise in a flexible manner, for example
the Manual may specify the requirements for an RPA to be operated
in certain prescribed areas. This will further assist in the
regulation of developments in this rapidly growing
industry—CASA's March 2016 Briefing Newsletter estimated
that Australia's unmanned aviation sector will have grown
between 200% and 500% from its current level by 2020.
A number of new strict liability offences have been introduced,
including conducting non-excluded RPA operations without an UOC.
The penalty for these offences is capped at 50 penalty units, which
currently equates to $9,000.
Issues for operators, their insurers and the public
RPA operators will no doubt rejoice in the relaxing of the
regulatory burdens but should take care to fully familiarise
themselves with the changes before they come into effect, to ensure
they do not unwittingly breach the regulations. Operators should
also ensure they have adequate insurance in place, even when
undertaking excluded operations.
The relaxing of the regulatory requirements will no doubt assist
in the already rapid development of the RPA industry in Australia
as these aircraft become more common in our skies and an increasing
number of people turn to them to conduct a variety of
1 Whether an RPA is an excluded RPA is
determined by the RPA category and the purpose for which the RPA is
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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This decision will be significant to aviation industry participants in assessing whether claimants in the context of international or domestic carriage by air have commenced claims in an appropriate forum in Australia.
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