A comprehensive approach to RPAS safety
The preceding chapters of this report provided an overview of the issues
and concerns raised in evidence about the current regulatory environment, and
some possible improvements. This chapter considers the evidence presented in
support of a comprehensive, integrated approach for RPAS safety regulation and
considers some of the key elements and structures required to achieve such an
The committee heard that a number of additional regulatory measures are
required to ensure RPAS, and RPAS operators, are appropriately integrated into the
Australian aviation system. As well as the implementation of a mandatory
registration regime, submitters suggested that RPAS operators be required to demonstrate
basic competence by completing an online education and training package, and
that stronger enforcement measures be implemented.
In addition to these measures, and in light of the range of issues
arising in relation to RPAS including privacy, import controls, local, state
and federal regulations and enforcement mechanisms, the committee heard that a
holistic policy approach to RPAS is now required.
Mr Joseph Wheeler of IALPG explained:
This is needed, given the cut-through of issues that drones
raise. Air safety is but one of them. There are import controls, security,
including national security, privacy, insurance and liability, and
international obligations of Australia as a party to the Chicago Convention.
There are state, federal and local level enforcement options and questions that
need to be addressed and should be addressed in any new fresh rethink or policy
framework when we go back to a clean slate.
As a first step, the committee considered the need for a whole of government
approach to RPAS.
Whole of government approach
The Australian Government, through the Minister for Infrastructure and
Transport, sets the direction for overall aviation policy. As part of
Australia's Aviation State Safety Programme, the Aviation Policy Group meets
quarterly and is chaired by the Secretary of DIRDC. It comprises the key
agencies involved in aviation policy, regulation and service provision – DIRDC,
CASA, Airservices Australia and the Department of Defence represented by the
Royal Australian Air Force.
Many submitters were not aware of the work of the Aviation Policy Group.
Others suggested that it was time to bring other relevant government
departments and agencies together to discuss aviation and RPAS matters.
Noting that RPAS intersect with many areas beyond traditional aviation to
encompass issues such as privacy, importation, education and technology, evidence
to the inquiry supported an approach which incorporated all aspects of RPAS
The need for engagement across a wider range of federal agencies was
contemplated as a way to achieve this, and as a means of ensuring greater
coordination and communication between such agencies.
When asked to envision how a whole of government response to RPAS might
be achieved, DIRDC noted the range of policy matters and agencies that would
need to be incorporated. These include:
DIRDC which has policy responsibility for aviation, including
trade and travel activities regulated through the Office of Transport Security;
the Attorney-General's Department which has policy responsibility
for administration of the Privacy Act 1988 and issues of criminality and
the Department of Home Affairs which enforces border controls
including the import and export of goods such as RPAS technology;
CASA which undertakes enforcement and investigation activities in
relation to breaches of aviation safety legislation;
the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science which supports
science and commercialisation of new ideas and technology; and
the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of
Finance and the Treasury which provide advice on funding and consumer
In addition, the Department of Defence notified the committee of its
role in regulating military aircraft and of a requirement to consult with CASA regarding
the operation of Defence drones in civilian airspace.
To draw federal government agencies and departments together, DIRDC
Our Department would...provide an overarching, facilitation
role to ensure a coordinated, whole-of-Government response on RP AS policy
issues and work with representatives from each relevant Department and agency
to consider the safety, security, privacy and any other issues raised to
progress the Government's agreed policy approach to any future RPAS controls.
While the means by which whole of government coordination should occur
was a matter of debate amongst submitters, it was clear that there was common
agreement on the need for wider and more cohesive engagement.
Consultation beyond the aviation sector
Along with a whole of government approach, evidence to the committee
highlighted the need for a forum which provides for broad consultation and
engagement beyond the traditional aviation sector, to directly inform RPAS policy
The Asia-Pacific RPAS Consortium described the need for 'collective and
harmonised dialogue' to ensure RPAS can be effectively and seamlessly
integrated into the aviation system.
The Australian Strategic Air Traffic Management Group (ASTRA) made the
point that, as interest in RPAS grows, the sector will increasingly comprise of
'non‑aviation stakeholders who do not see themselves as part of the
'traditional' aviation industry'.
Engagement with these important stakeholders may therefore extend beyond CASA's
aviation regulation role, and outside of the ATSB's investigative remit. ASTRA
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority's (CASA) involvement in
the regulation of the RPAS sector is vital, however CASA is not a law
enforcement agency in the traditional sense. Similarly, the Australian
Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) remit does not extend to monitoring and investigating
all unsafe or unlawful RPAS scenarios. Both organisational structures remain
premised upon traditional airspace users, now factoring extensive growth in
As noted in Chapter 2, CASA's primary consultation forum is the UASSC,
now part of the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).
Its rotating membership includes representatives from the aviation community
who advise on current, emerging and potential issues that impact on aviation
However, inquiry participants presented mixed views on whether the UASSC had
been effective in facilitating appropriate and timely changes to RPAS
Whilst acknowledging the existence of CASA's UASSC, Telstra suggested
that a new forum such as a working group, with a clearly defined terms of
reference and timetable, 'is likely to be a more effective approach' for
delivering future regulatory reforms. Telstra described a number of areas the
working group could explore:
The Terms of Reference (ToR) could request a report on the
regulations, technology and [UAS traffic management system] standards, and
educational resources that will be required to enable the widespread and safe
use of drones in the future through the use of smart drone technologies, mobile
networks and drone traffic management systems. The new framework should include
specific consideration of operations involving BVLOS, multiple drones per
operator, and night flying.
Qantas, a current member of the ASAP, noted that '[w]hile the existing
consultation measures have been effective, it may now be beneficial to broaden
the focus to take account of evolving trends in device usage'. Qantas suggested
that input be sought from RPAS operators, airlines, the general aviation
sector, aircraft and engine manufacturers, Airservices Australia, ATSB, state, territory
and local governments and other relevant agencies.
As the regulator, CASA would need to play a central role in the
development of any registration, education and compliance requirements for RPAS
users. However, submitters were of the view that an already resource-stretched
CASA does not have the means to drive the comprehensive regulatory approach
required for the growing number of RPAS in Australian airspace.
Piper Alderman stated that there is industry-wide concern that CASA's
enforcement capabilities are limited 'due to lack of resources and the
practicalities of monitoring RPA use'.
Another submitter claimed that it is 'crazy' for CASA to have regulatory
authority over RPAS operations, due to being 'woefully understaffed'.
Many went as far as to suggest that resourcing restrictions have
hampered CASA's ability to maintain adequate oversight of an industry as
dynamic and fast‑moving as that of RPAS.
The Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility at the University of Adelaide provided
For instance, the current Regulations anticipate the
issue of a Manual of Standards to provide clarification and certainty on
a range of operational dos and don'ts. The Manual has yet to be issued. It can
only be assumed that the resources to complete the task are not available.
Although many witnesses expressed concern that CASA is not adequately
resourced to effectively manage the increasing number of RPAS in Australian
skies, others questioned whether it was the role of CASA to do so.
Mr Joseph Urli of the Australian Certified UAV Operators noted that
CASA's resources are primarily occupied with 'processing applications rather
than being out in the field and policing the industry as such'.
Captain John Lyons of VIPA put forward the view that it was becoming
increasingly difficult for CASA to enforce the regulations given the ever-growing
number of amateur and commercial operators across the country:
CASA is woefully understaffed and under-resourced when it
comes to any form of enforcement. Three or four years ago, when there were 30
or 40, maybe 50, licensed operators, it was containable and they carried out
Mr Bradley Mason of Australian Certified UAV Operators added:
CASA just does not have the resources, and I do not think
that we are ever going to be able to resource CASA alone to be able to do that.
They are the boots on the ground. They are the people out there daily who are
encountering this sort of thing.
The IALPG stated that critics of the regulator should take 'a closer
look at resources and styles of enforcement by CASA', adding that safety
concerns regarding RPAS use are 'no criticism of CASA, whose role and resources
cannot allow officers to be everywhere'.
Instead, Mr Joseph Wheeler, Principal and Managing Partner of the IALPG
suggested that enforcing RPAS safety needs to 'start at the top', with greater
cooperation and 'information sharing' amongst relevant authorities.
A number of submitters argued that resourcing decisions should be
considered within the whole of government approach to RPAS safety, recognising
that some aspects of RPAS safety are beyond CASA's legal remit.
Additionally, funding models such as the US registration fee for operators, and
club-based education programs such as the 'wings' program, should be explored
as cost-effective solutions to support RPAS regulation.
The committee was informed that the implementation of reforms already
outlined in this chapter would contribute to a more consistent national policy
framework for RPAS operations in Australia. However, the need to address
regulatory inconsistencies across local and federal RPAS laws remains an
Alongside federal RPAS regulations, the committee was made aware of the
growing number of RPAS restrictions being put in place by local councils. In
December 2017, the Casey Council in Victoria introduced a scheme which requires
RPAS operators to obtain a permit before operating outside their own property,
or risk a $300 fine.
In Ballarat, a similar permit-scheme is in place, banning both commercial and
recreational RPAS operators from flying over municipal land and roads without
In addition to both local government and federal regulations regarding RPAS,
there are a range of other issues which intersect with RPAS, such as privacy, for
which both state and federal legislation applies. Recognising the expanding
assembly of stakeholders involved in the regulation of RPAS, the AAUS argued
that the federal government needs to ensure regulatory consistency across jurisdictions.
The confusing and disparate landscape of regulations has a
significant impact on the commercial RPAS industry; imposing additional
regulatory burden or preventing operations from taking place altogether. This
situation is expected to worsen as more State and Local Governments begin to
address the proliferation of drones in their jurisdictions.
Whilst acknowledging the 'significant legal difficulties' in
consolidating each piece of legislation and regulation relating to RPAS, Piper
...we believe there should be at least some combined effort on
the part of the Commonwealth, States and Territories to: (i) harmonise the
various applicable regulations to the maximum extent possible and, at the very
least, to the extent of any overlap; and (ii) prepare a comprehensive
information package to be provided with every RPA sale...
A number of submitters advocated for the involvement of the Australian
Local Government Association as an appropriate first step to begin addressing
The NSW Government suggested that the regulation of RPAS be referred to
the Transport Infrastructure Council for 'proper consideration and potential
Chaired by the Commonwealth, the Transport and Infrastructure Council was
established in December 2013 following an agreement by the Council of
Australian Governments to focus on nationally significant reforms. It consists
of members from each Australian state and territory, as well as a number of New
According to the NSW Government, the Council could help facilitate the adoption
of a nationally consistent approach across all Australian jurisdictions.
Privacy and surveillance
Privacy is one area governed by legislation at both a federal and state
level. Privacy matters become even more complex when related to RPAS. It is a
significant issue given the intrusive potential of RPAS equipped with cameras
and surveillance capability, which are now readily available to the public.
Australia's privacy regime comprises a range of Commonwealth, state and
territory statutes and common law principles. The Privacy Act 1988 sets
out 13 privacy principles which govern how organisations should collect,
manage and disclose information. These principles extend to information
collected by governments and large businesses. However, the privacy principles
do not apply to individuals.
Professor Des Butler noted that there is not a uniform approach to
privacy laws as they apply to individuals. It is therefore difficult for RPAS
operators to establish whether they are operating within the law or not. Professor
In the absence of a specific common law or statutory cause of
action protecting personal privacy, [there exists] a piecemeal collection of
common law causes of action such as trespass, private nuisance and breach of confidence,
all of which have limitations which mean that they do not provide complete
protection against invasions of privacy.
Due to legislative inconsistency across jurisdictions, RPAS operators,
particularly recreational users, are less likely to be aware of the specific
circumstances in which their use of an RPAS may breach someone's privacy. At
the same time, those that have their privacy invaded by a flying RPAS may find
it difficult to take action. The AAUS submitted that state-based privacy laws are
therefore in need of reform.
Along with privacy legislation, surveillance devices legislation, which
governs the use of optical surveillance devices and data surveillance tracking
devices, has been enacted in five jurisdictions – New South Wales, Victoria,
Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Yet, these laws
create further confusion about the permissible use of RPAS.
The 2014 House of Representatives report titled Eyes in the sky:
Inquiry into drones and the regulation of air safety and privacy made a recommendation
with regard to the harmonisation of surveillance laws. It recommended that, at
a 2014 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments' Law, Crime and
Community Safety Council:
...the Australian Government initiate action to simplify
Australia's privacy regime by introducing harmonised Australia-wide
surveillance laws that cover the use of:
optical surveillance devices
data surveillance devices, and
In response, the Australian Government stated that it is 'appropriate
that states and territories continue to modify their own surveillance device
laws, if necessary'. It argued that the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 (Cth)
strikes 'an appropriate balance between the protection of privacy and the
ability to investigate serious offences'. The government committed to 'monitor
developments in RPAS usage' to ensure protections were provided at the
The lack of national consistency with regard to state and
federal privacy and surveillance legislation, coupled with the growth of local
council by-laws relating to RPAS operations, has made compliance for RPAS
operators extremely challenging. The view was put to the committee that, as
part of a comprehensive approach to RPAS regulation, consideration should be
given to harmonising legislation relevant to RPAS across state and federal
jurisdictions. A whole of government approach should also encompass the range
of policy matters and agencies that intersect with RPAS operations.
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