Australia: Drones: An Unsolvable Regulatory Problem?

Last Updated: 13 December 2017
Article by Maurice Thompson, James M Cooper and Jess Harman

Australia's aviation safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), is currently reviewing the regulations concerning the safe operation of drones. However, with the rapid development of drone technology and the increasing accessibility of drones to the general public, is it realistic to expect that regulations will be able to keep up with drones?

As of July 2017, it is estimated that there are at least 50,000 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA, commonly referred to as 'drones') being operated in Australia, mainly for recreational and sport purposes. The regulation of ever-increasing RPA-related activities is proving to be a challenge for national aviation safety authorities around the world. Dr Jonathan Aleck, the Head of Legal Affairs at CASA, recently stated that the speed of technological developments in the RPA industry posed a potentially unsolvable regulatory problem. Speaking at the IBA Annual Conference held in Sydney in early October this year, Mr Aleck stated, "the moment you put your finger on the technology, it has changed and advanced ... Every jurisdiction has a roadmap and a plan. Everyone is looking at this and struggling."1

State of play in Australia

Last year we wrote about the updated RPA regulations introduced by CASA in September 2016 (CASR Part 101), which, among other things, relaxed licensing and training requirements for recreational users of RPA and some commercial operators.

Within two weeks of the commencement of the new CASR Part 101, the Australian Government, seemingly prompted by industry pressure, announced a substantive review of the aviation safety regulation of RPA to be overseen by CASA. Separately, a Senate Inquiry was also launched to review the use and safety implications of RPA in Australia.[2]

CASA Discussion Paper

As part of CASA's ongoing review, it has released a 'Discussion Paper' to invite public response regarding the issues and concerns that have been raised following the 2016 amendments to CASR Part 101. The discussion paper focuses on several approaches that CASA could adopt to manage RPA-related activities:

1. Registration of RPA

All aircraft in Australia are required to be formally registered with CASA and display their registration number on the aircraft itself. However, under the current CASR Part 101, there are no registration requirements for drones that fall within the category of 'excluded RPA', which includes drones:

  • used for recreational purposes weighing less than 150kg (which accounts for the vast majority of drones in Australian skies);
  • used for commercial purposes weighing less than 2kg; and
  • operated by private landowners on their own property weighing less than 150kg.

A mandatory drone registration scheme could act as an effective means to deter unsafe or unlawful operation of RPA and to identify those who offend the Regulations. Contact details provided by registered operators could also be used by CASA to convey important safety information and advisory material regarding the safe use of RPA. On the other hand, there is no significant evidence in support of registration requirements acting as an effective deterrent against unsafe operations, and such requirements may simply add a layer of 'red tape' that only serves to stunt growth in the industry. Any attempt to police registration could itself prove difficult given the use of many RPA in remote areas in connection with agricultural and maritime usage.

2. Geo-fencing

Geo-fencing is technology that creates a virtual boundary to keep RPA from entering restricted airspace. Geo-fencing could be used to contain RPA within a particular area, or to exclude RPA from sensitive areas, such as in the airspace of airports, to prevent RPA interference with other aircraft activity.

Geo-fencing also raises numerous interesting problems of its own, for example:

  • what happens to a RPA once it approaches or reaches a geo-fencing area? Does it fall to the ground? Return to its owner? Is it diverted in some other direction or to another location?
  • will geo-fencing systems also impact other low flying aircraft (i.e. piloted aircraft, not RPA) in the surrounding area?
  • geo-fencing software can be installed in the RPA itself, however, the cost implications of including the software in all RPA could be prohibitive to some manufacturers or users.

Although advances in technology show promise that geo-fencing will be an integral tool to the management of RPA in the future, CASA has stated that at this time, the geo-fencing technology available does not meet the requisite levels of technical reliability.

3. Mandatory training for RPA operators

Under CASR Part 101, there are no training or education requirements for 'excluded RPA' (subject to some additional pilot licensing requirements for certain drones operated by private landowners on their own property). This contrasts with the position for commercial drone operations currently adopted in other major jurisdictions such as the US. The UK government also recently announced that it is considering the introduction of basic training for anyone operating a drone that weighs more than 250g.

All RPA operators are required to comply with the safety requirements set out in CASR Part 101, notably the 'standard RPA operating conditions'. However, there are concerns that some amateur users are either unaware or unwilling to comply with these requirements. In the absence of mandatory training, RPA users are not required to learn or demonstrate any level of practical proficiency in the safe operation of RPA before they may lawfully operate their RPA.

International approach

As part of its review, CASA is considering the approach of other national authorities and international organisations. Recently, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) proposed to introduce a single, global database requiring the registration of all RPA. ICAO has also discussed a common global framework for traffic management systems for RPA, including communications systems for control and tracking of RPA and geo-fencing to prevent operation of RPA in sensitive security, restricted or dangerous areas. Regulations on a global scale are likely to influence the Australian approach to RPA regulation going forward.

Separate reports regarding both the findings of CASA's Discussion Paper and Senate Committee are expected to be released soon. We will keep you updated with the results of the reviews at the time of their release and their likely impact on the local market.


1 As reported by T Madge-Wyld in the article 'Australian safety regulator safes drones "cannot be managed"', Getting the Deal Through, 12 October 2017 <,58100,OWF3UX,K3NV3,1

2 An inquiry is being conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) into Regulatory Requirements that Impact on the Safe Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Unmanned Aerial Systems and Associated Systems:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Maurice Thompson
James M Cooper
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions