In Holman Webb's April 2020 article Drone (UAV) Laws: Focused on Safety or Keeping Australia Back?, we discussed the strict regulations surrounding the use of drone s(aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicles 'UAVs') within Australia. That article considered the impact of these regulations on Australia's advancement with respect to UAV technology, especially within the agricultural and medical industries.

Since April 2020, the regulations have increased.

The rules for UAVs in Australia are set out in Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 ('the Regulations'), and are enforced by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority ('CASA') which provides a strict code relating to the use of UAVs.

CASA has recently provided a timeframe outlining the deadlines for UAV registration and accreditation for UAV users.

As of 28 January 2021, in order to fly a UAV for purposes other than sport or recreation, pilots must:

You must register your drone and obtain a RPA operator accreditation to fly for business or as part of your job if your UAV weighs:

  • 250g or less (a micro RPA);
  • more than 250g but no more than 2kg (a very small RPA); or
  • more than 2kg but no more than 25kg and you only fly it over your own land (a small RPA).

Flying for business includes things like taking and selling photos or video, inspecting equipment, monitoring, research and any activity required by an employer.

You do not need operator accreditation if you are flying for fun.

A RePL is only required if the user aims to:

  • be a remote pilot for an individual or business that holds a ReOC; and/or
  • fly a UAV or RPA weighing over 25kg, but under 150kg over their own land.

ReOCs are issued to government entities, or people/businesses holding either an ACN or ABN and who are looking to make financial gain through flying drones as a service; who employ RePL holders; and who fly outside standard operating conditions.

As of 28 January 2021, those flying unregistered UAVs either for business or as part of their employment can be fined up to $11,100.

At this point, it is unnecessary to register a UAV if it is only being used for sport or recreation purposes. However, CASA has indicated that in the next phase of registration coming in March 2022, recreational UAVs or model aircraft weighing more than 250g will be required to obtain accreditation and registration. Currently, there is no age limit to fly a UAV for sport or recreation purposes.

Further, as of 30 September 2021, the Transport Safety Investigation Regulations 2003 was replaced with the new Transport Safety Investigation Regulations Act 2021. The new regulations require operators of certain remotely piloted aircraft ('RPA') to provide safety and occurrence reports to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau ('ATSB'). Drones are categorised under either Type 1 RPAs or Type 2 RPAs.

Type 1 RPAs include drones that have been:

  • certified against relevant airworthiness standards;
  • medium drones weighing over 25kg;
  • large drones weighing over 150kg.

Type 1 operators are required to immediately report to the ATSB RPA occurrences involving:

  • death or serious injury;
  • accidents;
  • loss of a separation standard with aircraft; and
  • serious damage to property.

Less serious incidents and occurrences are required to be reported to the ATSB within 72 hours.

Type 1 operators are also required to report routine matters to the ATSB including:

  • any procedure for overcoming an emergency;
  • when flight into terrain is narrowly avoided;
  • occurrences that result in difficulty controlling the aircraft, including:
    • aircraft system failure;
    • weather phenomenon; and
    • operation outside the approved flight envelope.

UAVs over 250g are considered Type 2 RPAS and have fewer reporting requirements. Generally, operators of Type 2 RPAs will only need to report incidents and occurrences to the ATSB immediately if they involve death or serious injury. Type 2 RPAs operators are required to report less serious accidents and damage to the ATSB within 72 hours.

Less serious accidents include:

  • serious damage to property;
  • loss of separation;
  • missing aircraft;
  • aircraft sustaining serious damage; or
  • aircraft inaccessibility.

UAVs that do not fall into either of the Type 1 or Type 2 RPA categories have no mandatory reporting requirements under these new regulations.

UAV registration and mandatory reporting aims to increase accountability and responsibility with regard to the operation of drones within Australia. The identification of the flyer following a drone-related incident prevents operators from evading responsibility after a crash, and ensures people are more likely to actively understand the rules, and to take care accordingly.

The ATSB investigates incidents from a 'no-blame' perspective, prioritising improved safety outcomes. Mandatory reporting notifies ATSB of systemic safety issues in order to help prevent future accidents, improve safety outcomes and develop drone technology.

With the above in mind, a thorough legal risk assessment of drone operations is recommended to ensure compliance with the myriad of laws applied to drone operations. This will help to avoid potential exposure to hefty fines.

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.