Committee view and recommendations
The advent and advance of RPAS technology presents a wealth of
opportunities for the Australian community, and worldwide. The growth of commercial,
scientific and security applications has facilitated the innovative use
of RPAS in agriculture, mining, emergency services, medicine and across a
range of industries. However, the proliferation of RPAS in Australia also
presents a series of challenges, particularly to public and aviation safety,
which require immediate address.
Of particular concern to the committee is the growing number of RPAS falling
within the 'excluded' category of Part 101 of the CASR, including those used
for recreational purposes and weighing less than 2kg. Contrary to CASA's
assessment that these RPAS are 'lower risk',
the committee considers that even small RPA weighing less than 2kg are capable
of causing damage to rotorcraft, aircraft, people and property. This concern was
borne out of research conducted by the ATSB, UK Department for Transport,
and the US FAA.
Whilst it is apparent that the implementation of a blanket ban on the
use of RPA would immediately 'eliminate the risks that are posed by untrained
and unqualified drone operators',
the committee acknowledges that such an approach would not provide a constructive,
practical solution to the issue. Such a ban would seriously jeopardise
investment, innovation and advancement of RPAS technology in industries and
sectors such as emergency services and agriculture.
The committee therefore recommends a series of measures to enhance
public safety without stifling the myriad of innovative applications for RPAS
technology. As a first step, reforms to Part 101 should be made in line with
the evidence available about RPAS collision and risk. Following this, the
committee recommends the introduction of a mandatory registration regime and
education program for RPAS operators, combined with 'off-the-shelf' limitations
on RPAS range and altitude, before exploring further initiatives such as airspace
restriction and airworthiness standards. The committee strongly suggests the
adoption of a whole of government policy approach, within which all RPAS‑related
measures can be considered. As the RPAS sector continues to transform and grow,
ongoing evaluation and review of these measures will be required.
Evidence-based regulatory reform
Throughout the inquiry, the committee was repeatedly informed that the September
2016 amendments to Part 101 of the CASR were not supported by sufficient
evidence and that they are out of step with the regulations imposed by many of
CASA's international counterparts. The committee is firmly of the view that
regulatory changes should be supported by a sound evidence base, particularly
with regards to aviation safety standards.
The committee shares the view of ATSB's Aviation Commissioner and former
chief pilot of Qantas, Mr Chris Manning, that '[a]nything in the air is a
risk to an aircraft, whether it is a bird, an animal or an RPAS'.
Accordingly, the committee is concerned by evidence presented throughout the
inquiry that RPAS falling under the excluded category (weighing less than 2kg)
are able to do significant damage to passenger aircraft when mid-air collisions
The committee was alarmed by CASA's apparent lack of due diligence prior
to introducing the amendments. Rather than providing a comprehensive evidence‑base,
the research conducted by CASA to inform the amendments appears to have been
limited to desktop research. In addition, questions were raised about the
consultation period for the Part 101 amendments, which lasted only one month,
then took two years to come into effect. This approach stands in direct
contrast to that taken by the UK government which used laboratory collision
testing and computer modelling to undertake a mid-air collision study before
implementing regulations for small RPAS. Similarly, in the US, the Department
of Transport and the FAA conducted risk assessments and a community
consultation process before introducing registration requirements for RPAS over
There is a growing body of evidence, demonstrated by research undertaken
in other jurisdictions, to suggest that the Part 101 amendments require urgent
reconsideration. The committee appreciates that CASA recently completed a
review into RPAS operations, and made considerable effort to engage with the
aviation community as part of this process. However, CASA must also draw on the
growing body of empirical evidence produced by other jurisdictions to provide
an evidence‑based approach to any regulatory change, and fulfil its
primary statutory objective to ensure the 'safety of air navigation as the most
As CASA acknowledged in its review paper, the sharing and leveraging of international
research is highly beneficial to the development of RPAS regulation.
CASA should therefore continue to draw on the research already available through
the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems, as well as other
jurisdictions, to inform Australian regulatory policy for RPAS operation and
The committee recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority draw
on the growing body of international empirical research and collision testing
on remotely piloted aircraft systems below 2kg to immediately reform Part 101
of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998.
Mandatory registration regime
Cognisant of the outcomes of the UK mid-air collision study, the
committee recognises that even small RPAS are capable of causing considerable
damage to rotorcraft and aircraft. However, under the current requirements for RPAS
use, there is no way to identify the operator and owner of any RPAS involved in
a near-miss incident or collision. The committee recognises that the
registration of all RPAS, whether for recreational or commercial purposes,
would allow enforcement agencies to monitor and penalise unlawful RPAS
activity. Identification requirements for RPAS and their operators would
discourage rule breaches and encourage responsible, safe RPAS use.
The development of a compulsory registration regime in Australia would
align with regulations currently in force in jurisdictions across the world,
including in the US and UK whereby RPAS over 250g are required to be registered
prior to flight. Along with many stakeholders who provided evidence to the
inquiry, the committee upholds the view that a similar requirement should be enshrined
in the Australian regulations.
According to CASA's review of RPAS operations, there is abundant support
from commercial, recreational, and non-users of RPAS for some form of
A key preference was for registration to be determined by the weight of the
RPA, with 250g being the most commonly nominated cut-off.
The committee recognises that some RPAS manufacturers have taken steps
to introduce their own registration systems. As an example, DJI announced in
May 2017 that firmware updates for all DJI drone models will require users to
log onto its website to complete an application activation process.
These are important initiatives. However, the committee also recognises
that the implementation of a mandatory registration regime presents the
opportunity to create more stringent criteria for those wishing to operate an RPAS
and to educate prospective operators. Inquiry participants notified the
committee that new operators may not fully comprehend or even be aware of the
regulations applicable to RPAS, with many potentially operating their RPAS in
breach of the regulations simply 'out of naivety'.
The introduction of a mandatory registration regime provides an
opportunity to reach and inform all RPAS users whilst also requiring of them a
demonstrated understanding and awareness of safe RPAS use. In particular, new
operators should be required to demonstrate basic knowledge of the rules
pertaining to RPAS flights, such as the requirement to stay below 400 feet and
maintain a distance of at least 30 metres from people. An understanding of the
penalties applied for non-compliance should also be demonstrated.
The mandatory registration of RPAS is a sensible and logical step
towards effective regulation. The committee appreciates, however, that the
costs associated with establishing and administering a registration scheme
would not be insignificant. The matter of cost recovery was noted in CASA's review
of RPAS operations, with the regulator noting that recreational RPAS operation
'is already placing a significant burden on CASA's funding' due to the lack of
a regulatory services income from non‑commercial operators.
This reflects a broader discussion on the need to select an appropriate body
(government or third party) to maintain the proposed register, with a suitable cost
structure in place.
The committee notes that cost-effective registration regimes are already
in place in many jurisdictions around the world. In the US, RPAS registration
costs are offset by incorporating a minor fee for operators. The UK is
proposing a similar regime, with the added requirement for operators to renew
their registration each year, free of charge. In Australia, other recreational
aircraft, such as hot air balloons and skydiving parachutes, are required to
register through one of 10 Recreational Aviation Administration Organisations (RAAOs)
authorised to self-administer sport and recreational flying activities on
Beyond aviation, registration regimes are also in place for maritime distress
and even prepaid mobile phones.
The committee therefore suggests that the establishment and
implementation of a mandatory registration regime need not entail onerous
financial outlays. Instead, the models adopted in other jurisdictions and
industries should be drawn on to establish a mandatory regime for RPAS that is
both cost-effective and sustainable.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce a
mandatory registration regime for all remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) weighing
more than 250 grams. As part of registration requirements, RPAS operators
should be required to successfully complete a basic competence test regarding the
safe use of RPAS, and demonstrate an understanding of the penalties for
non-compliance with the rules.
Tiered education program
The committee recognises that more should be done to ensure that all RPAS
users, whether recreational or commercial, undertake some form of mandatory
education and training before flying their RPAS. The committee was alarmed by
numerous reports of reckless RPAS operations which had hindered emergency
operations, flown close to commercial aircraft, or intruded upon restricted
airspace. The committee was equally concerned by reports of inexperienced RPAS
operators who, through obliviousness to the rules, have inadvertently
threatened public safety in one way or another.
The committee acknowledges the models used for training, education and
certification of sport and recreational aircraft pilots through
self-administering organisations such as Recreational Aviation Australia and
the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia. Specialist aircraft clubs such
as these have assisted in fostering a culture of safety and awareness of
aviation law, in the absence of a national education and registration system.
In particular, the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia has demonstrated
considerable leadership in devising and delivering its wings accreditation
program to club members.
Drawing on these safety initiatives, the committee is supportive of a
tiered education regime for all RPAS users. In accordance with evidence to the
inquiry, the committee recognises that the level of training required should be
geared to the level of risk posed by each operation. For example, RPAS
purchased 'off-the-shelf' would have a base level limitation on range and
altitude, such as 200 feet above ground level and 200 metres from the operator.
Upon completion of a rudimentary education tier as described in Recommendation 2,
users would then have additional capabilities unlocked on their device,
commensurate with the current operating conditions stated in the Regulations. After
successful completion of additional training, limitations could then be removed
entirely for operators using RPAS for commercial or exempted purposes. The
final tier would equate to the current training requirements for a commercial
A summary is provided in Table 8.1 below:
| Tier 1
||200 feet (60 metres) AGL 200 metres from operator
| Tier 2
||400 feet (120 metres) AGL 500 metres from operator
| Tier 3
||Commercial and other exempted use
The committee recognises that a large majority of incidents involving RPAS
in the last few years are likely to have been due to a lack of knowledge about
the relevant guidelines and regulations. It is therefore appropriate that
educative programs focus on the risks associated with aircraft operation, and
general principles of aviation. The education curriculum should also
incorporate an explanation of basic aviation terms, and the differences between
airspace classes, particularly those that prohibit RPAS operations, and those
that may permit operations to a certain height or distance. As previously
emphasised, the tiered education program should be introduced as part of the
RPAS mandatory registration regime.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a tiered
education program whereby remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) users
progressively unlock RPAS capabilities upon completion of each level of
training. Three tiers are proposed as follows:
purchase of the RPAS – mandatory registration requires user to demonstrate
knowledge the basic rules for flying RPAS, and the penalties for non-compliance
(as described in Recommendation 2);
recreational use of RPAS – second tier requires user to
demonstrate an advanced understanding of aviation rules and safety before
unlocking additional capabilities; and
commercial use of RPAS – final tier requires user to demonstrate
comprehensive aviation knowledge before obtaining commercial operator licence and
unlocking full RPAS capability.
Another matter that requires attention is that of the imposition of
restrictions on RPAS over vulnerable airspace. The committee was alarmed by
reports of unauthorised RPAS hampering emergency operations and flying close to
hospital zones. These practices present a significant risk to low-flying
helicopters and small aircraft performing essential, and at times life-saving,
In addition to these areas, the committee considered the airspace over
public buildings and critical infrastructure to be particularly susceptible to RPAS
misuse. Taking into account the security risks involved, the committee is
firmly of the view that such areas should be subject to explicit RPAS
restriction. It suggests that restriction of airspace over public buildings,
emergency operations, hospitals and major cities is an appropriate preventative
measure that is commensurate with the risk posed. Stronger enforcement measures
should also be considered to ensure the public is aware of restrictions, and
discouraged from breaching the rules.
The committee recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, in
cooperation with the Australian Federal Police and other relevant authorities,
prohibit the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in the airspace above
significant public buildings, critical infrastructure and other vulnerable
Additionally, the committee considers that further measures are required
to effectively prevent RPAS from flying in such vulnerable airspace. The
recommended registration and education initiatives could assist in educating RPAS
operators of the risks involved in flying in these areas, and the potential penalties
applied. CASA's mobile app Can I fly there? provides a suitable platform
to both notify and remind the public about such restrictions. However, 'off-the-shelf'
RPAS should ultimately be fitted with technical restrictions to ensure
compliance with the rules. The committee is of the view that this will ensure
both oblivious and malicious users are prevented from breaching the rules and
posing an aviation and public safety threat. In this regard, Defence commented
that there should be ‘electronic, physical or other measures’ to prevent RPAS
from being utilised unlawfully.
The committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure, Regional
Development and Cities, in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Safety
Authority, work with manufacturers of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)
to develop future solutions to RPAS safety, including the implementation of
technical restrictions on altitude and distance for 'off-the-shelf' RPAS.
To allow RPAS to fully integrate into shared airspace, they must be
subject to standards of airworthiness. Airworthiness standards for recreational
and other RPAS would ensure that the devices are consistent across technical
design, manufacture and maintenance requirements, as is the case with all other
aircraft in Australia.
The committee acknowledges the work CASA has done to consult with the
aviation community regarding a UAS airworthiness framework.
The initiatives undertaken by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned
Systems and the European Aviation Safety Agency are also significant.
However, the committee remains concerned that the exemption of RPAS from
airworthiness requirements, particularly those used by recreational operators,
continues to diminish public safety through allowing unchecked devices to fly
in civilian airspace. As pointed out in the 2016 RMIT study referred to by submitters,
broken communication links between an RPAS and its controller, and other technical
problems, account for more than half the number of reported RPAS accidents.
Yet, a nationally consistent standard of airworthiness for very small and small
RPAS remains absent.
Therefore, the committee recommends that, at a minimum, prescribed
standards for RPAS should include a number of fail-safe redundancies, such as
return‑to‑home functionality and forced flight termination. In the
case of a system error, these safety mechanisms will ensure that damage to
people or property is minimised.
The committee is of the view that airworthiness standards should also extend
to RPAS that arrive in the country through foreign imports. Just as model
rockets and laser pointers are subject to import controls, so too should RPA
devices be monitored at the border to ensure a consistent standard of quality
and safety. Whilst complications may arise with regards to RPAS modification
and part substitution, the committee suggests that the safety of the public
should remain at the forefront of RPAS regulation in order to prevent all
potential incidents and accidents associated with technical failure.
The committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure, Regional
Development and Cities, in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority,
develop appropriate airworthiness standards for remotely piloted aircraft of
all sizes and operations. At a minimum, fail-safe functions such as 'return to
home' and safe landing functionality, and forced flight termination, should be
The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop import
controls to enforce airworthiness standards for foreign manufactured remotely
piloted aircraft systems.
Whole of government approach
The committee considers that the wealth of reforms required to
effectively regulate and support the growing RPAS industry requires a holistic
approach that draws in all levels of government, a range of industry
stakeholders, and utilises cost‑effective solutions. As a first step, a
whole of government approach is needed to address the increasingly complex set
of challenges arising from the multi-faceted nature of RPAS technology, and the
diverse set of stakeholders involved.
The committee was pleased to hear that the Australian Government
provides aviation policy leadership through quarterly meetings of the Aviation
Policy Group. However, it was apparent that many submitters and witnesses were
not aware of this government mechanism, nor felt that it was sufficient to deal
comprehensively with matters relating to RPAS.
During the course of the inquiry, it became clear to the committee that RPAS
regulation and safety instead requires a coordinated, holistic approach which
encompasses matters including national security, importation, consumer
protection, and technological innovation. To this end, the committee recognises
the need for a whole of government approach, whereby departments and agencies
work together across portfolio boundaries, to achieve RPAS safety.
For this reason, the committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure,
Regional Development and Cities, which has policy leadership on aviation
matters, work with CASA and other key agencies to establish whole of government
mechanisms to develop policies and implement programs directed at achieving RPAS
safety in Australia. The establishment of such mechanisms will enable
comprehensive consideration of matters and areas intersecting with RPAS
To ensure that a comprehensive regulatory approach to RPAS is adopted,
the committee further recommends that the Australian Government explore cost‑effective
options for the implementation and maintenance of registration, education, and
compliance initiatives outlined in this report.
The committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure, Regional
Development and Cities, in collaboration with the Civil Aviation Safety
Authority, develop a whole of government policy for remotely piloted aircraft
safety in Australia, and establish appropriate coordination and implementation
mechanisms with relevant departments and agencies to implement the policy.
As part of a whole of government policy approach, the committee further recommends
that the Australian Government explore cost‑effective models to develop
and administer new regulatory initiatives for remotely piloted aircraft
systems, including a mandatory registration regime and tiered education program.
The harmonisation of state and territory privacy laws should also be
Comprehensive research to inform
policy and practice
Additional concerns in relation to the current RPAS regime include the
lack of available data regarding RPAS operations, the limited information on RPAS
incidents and occurrences, and the methodology applied to gather such
information. These concerns were brought to the fore throughout the inquiry in
evidence that the regulator has very little information about the number of RPAS
in the sky, the characteristics of RPAS operators, where RPAS are flown, and
the type of operations that are taking place.
The committee agrees that this wealth of 'unknowns' presents a key policy
challenge that should be addressed.
Information captured through the National Aviation Occurrence Database
has historically excluded many aviation breaches due to an overly narrow
criterion for reportable activity. CASA's reporting and complaints system is
also insufficient, relying heavily on witness reports and photographic evidence
of RPAS that are neither identifiable nor traceable.
The committee believes that, as part of a whole of government policy
approach to RPAS, a research and data gathering capability should be established.
It would provide Airservices Australia, CASA, ATSB and other involved agencies
access to more complex information relevant to the development of operating
standards, geo-fencing, incident prevention, and the identification of commercial
trends. The collection and analysis of such information would provide an
evidence‑base on which to assess the effectiveness of current regulatory
measures, and inform future policy.
As stated earlier, the establishment of a registration regime is an
essential step which would allow for the collection of much of the required
The committee recommends that, as part of a whole of government approach
to remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) safety, the Civil Aviation Safety
Authority work with Airservices Australia and other relevant agencies to
implement a comprehensive research and data gathering regime. Information
should be collated and centralised in a way that allows for the examination of RPAS
registrations, operations, trends and incidents, to provide an evidence base on
which to assess the efficacy of current regulations, and to inform the
development of future policy and regulations.
Consultation beyond the aviation
In addition to a whole of government mechanism established at the
federal level, the committee believes that ongoing consultation with the RPAS
sector will ensure that the aviation regulator understands the changing
opportunities and challenges faced by RPAS operators, both commercial and
The committee is supportive of the existing consultation forums led by
CASA, including the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel. However, as submitters and
witnesses have suggested, stakeholders of RPAS technology are much broader than
the traditional aviation sector.
As such, the committee recommends that regular input be sought from a
range of industry stakeholders, such as airlines, manufacturers, insurers,
emergency service bodies, agriculture representatives, air traffic control,
recreational clubs, mobile networks, as well as recreational and commercial RPAS
operators. Engagement with stakeholders should be guided by clear terms of
reference, and focus on evolving trends in RPAS use, including the development
of new technologies and capabilities such as beyond visual line of sight
The committee recognises the evolving nature of RPAS technology and
associated systems, and considers that a whole of government framework should
take these advancements into account when setting policy.
8.55 In particular, the committee is interested in the array of technologies
currently being developed to enhance the safety mechanisms built into RPAS,
including geo‑fencing, collision avoidance, and other transponder-based
systems such as ADS‑B. It is clear from the evidence presented to the
committee that many of these systems are developing rapidly, and need to be
seriously considered as regulatory tools to prevent unsafe RPAS use. This is
demonstrated by the availability of safeguards such as 'return to home' and
'follow me' modes that are already available in many manufactured products.
However, the committee recognises that questions remain about how the
technology will be integrated with compliance regimes. For example, if an RPAS
equipped with in-built restrictions on height and altitude breaches restricted
airspace due to technical inaccuracy, the regulator would need to make a
decision about who is legally responsible – the manufacturer or the operator.
Another outstanding matter is the need for in-built technical
restrictions to keep pace with temporary or new restrictions, such as those put
in place during the Commonwealth Games. Where airspace is temporarily restricted,
manufacturers and regulators would need to ensure all RPAS are remotely updated
and adhere to the new rules.
Recognising that geo-fencing is already available in a number of
overseas jurisdictions, and in certain manufacturer's products, the committee
supports the work currently being done by the Queensland University of
Technology in conjunction with Airservices Australia to develop the necessary
datasets to geo‑fence RPAS in Australia through a web based service for
digital mapping. The committee strongly encourages the government to continue
to utilise the technical and industry expertise of stakeholders to develop
future solutions to RPAS safety.
Addressing other policy challenges
Once a whole of government policy mechanism is in place, consideration
should be given to other complex policy challenges, including the steps
required to achieve a nationally consistent enforcement regime in relation to RPAS.
Nationally consistent regulations
The committee acknowledges the steps being taken by local and state
governments to increase public safety and mitigate the risks posed by the
growing number of recreational and amateur RPAS operators. However, the
committee heard that such measures will be counterproductive if they lead to
confusion about RPAS rules and how and where they apply. State-based
surveillance laws, which dictate the use of optical surveillance devices and
data surveillance tracking devices including RPAS, are one such example.
The committee is mindful that the concerns raised in the 2014 House of
Representatives report regarding surveillance laws pertaining to RPAS use remain
Therefore, the committee recognises that a whole of government approach to RPAS
management provides an opportunity to address regulatory inconsistencies across
local and federal RPAS laws.
A nationally consistent policy framework and collaborative approach would
ensure that local and state government restrictions on RPAS complement federal
regulations and provide a consistent message regarding safety for RPAS users
and the general public. The committee strongly encourages local and state
governments to work with federal counterparts for the purposes of harmonising RPAS
Delegation of police powers
Another issue that requires consideration is that of the prospect of
CASA delegating some of its policing powers to local authorities. It is clear
that, as the number of RPAS operators continues to rise, the burden placed on
CASA to enforce the regulations will become untenable. Following the example of
the US and UK, the committee believes that there is merit in considering the
delegation of policing powers to local authorities who are often best placed to
issue timely penalties. Consideration should be given to empowering local
authorities to provide on-the-spot fines and report infringements directly to
CASA. As part of a coordinated approach to RPAS safety, the prospect of
applying counter-drone technology, such as jamming devices and GPS tracking
should also be contemplated.
The committee strongly supports the development of a nationally
consistent enforcement regime, and the delegation of police powers to local
authorities. However, it takes the view that a registration system and whole of
government policy approach to RPAS safety should remain the first priority.
Once these initiatives are in place, other enforcement mechanisms can be
considered as part of a coordinated response.
The committee recommends that, following the development of a whole of
government policy approach to RPAS safety, including the establishment of a national
registration system, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) work with state
and territory enforcement bodies to implement a nationally consistent
enforcement regime for remotely piloted aircraft systems. Under this regime,
enforcement bodies would be delegated powers to provide on-the-spot fines and
report infringements of the regulations directly to CASA.
The committee's inquiry into RPAS and associated systems has identified
a multitude of benefits that RPAS technology has brought to many industries.
However, the amendments to Part 101 of the CASR in September 2016 have shaken public
confidence that RPAS can be effectively integrated into Australian airspace,
without a significant number of regulatory reforms.
The evidence has clearly shown that, in order for Australia to balance
the important challenges of ensuring public and aviation safety, and
encouraging innovation, the regulations for RPAS use must be expanded to
include a registration requirement, education and awareness training, additional
enforcement and compliance measures, and technology-based solutions.
The committee believes that its recommendations, once implemented in
full, will instil community confidence by contributing to public and aviation safety,
and keeping Australia's skies safe.
Senator Glenn Sterle
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