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Experts back proposed CASA move on RPAs

written by Jordan Chong | May 26, 2014

The DJI Phantom Quadcopter RPA.
The DJI Phantom Quadcopter RPA.

There is a solid basis for Australia’s aviation regulator proposing those operating remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) weighing less than two kilograms under specific conditions will not require a licence, experts say.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says unmanned aerial vehicles two kilograms or less represent only a small risk to safety.

In issuing a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for amendments to CASR Part 101 it is seeking comment on allowing these vehicles to be flown without a licence under certain conditions.

Under the proposed CASA changes, these smaller RPA’s can be flown without an unmanned aircraft system operator’s certificate or remote pilot certificate, under a number of specific conditions.

The RPAs have to be less than 400ft above the ground; flown in daylight conditions; be flown outside of controlled airspace; more than 30m away from people; more than 5km from an aerodrome; and a line of sight has to maintained with the vehicle.

CASA’s recommendations came after it conducted a risk assessment for small RPA of two kilograms and below to investigate the potential harm to people, property and other airspace users.

“The general consensus is that RPA with a gross weight of two kilograms and below have a very low kinetic energy, pose very little risk to aviation and have a low potential for harm to people and property on the ground and other airspace users,” CASA said.


Deputy director of the Sir Lawrence Wackett Aerospace Research Centre at RMIT University, Reece Clothier, said CASA was the first to regulate unmanned aircraft more than a decade ago and welcomed the latest proposal.

“Looking at all the considerations, most importantly safety but also the practicality and the economic argument, they have actually done that class of the industry a positive thing in reducing the regulatory burden,” Dr Clothier said in an interview.

“The approach they are using is justifiable, it is risk based so is defensible from that respect and for that I think what they are doing is really good.

“The Australian industry is very well placed and actually owes a lot of where it is today because of those proactive measures that have been taken by CASA.”

The editor of industry website UAS News Gary Mortimer said CASA’s proposal was a sensible move.

“Putting in place clear guidelines for sub two kilogam use gets rid of all grey areas and that is the right thing to do,” Mortimer said via email from South Africa.

“Australia and the UK did the right thing starting with strict rules and relaxing them as operational experience is gained.”

Regulations of these sorts of vehicles is a growing concern in the aviation industry, given their rising popularity and increasing affordability.

And approaches vary among different countries. For example the United States has banned almost all non-government use of remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones.

There have also been some near misses and accidents in recent times.

In 2010, a RPA came within 30 metres of a Virgin Australia 737 on approach to Perth airport.

“Fortunately the RPA was caught in the jetwash (or more commonly known as wake turbulence) which in turn caused it to spiral towards the ground,” CASA deputy director of aviation safety Terry Farquharson told a Canberra seminar in July 2013.

“This incident could have been lot worse that it appears to be.”

Farquharson said the rapid growth of the RPA sector represented one of CASA’s key challenges, given a study in 2013 by the US-based aerospace and consulting firm Teal Group forecast RPA spending to double from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion over the next decade.

“These are big numbers,” Farquharson said.

“This sector has emerged as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade.”

The deputy director said the increasing numbers and of small RPAs and their varied capabilities in Australia meant it was “impossible for CASA to effectively regulate all of them”.

“We have to address the current reality. There is no point in CASA writing regulations that can’t be enforced,” Farquharson said.

Submissions to CASA’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making to part 101 of the regulations are due by June 16.


  • ZebraFlyer


    This rule change will do nothing to enhance safety. The incidents that have occurred to date are most likely due to people breaching rules that already exist – no rule that CASA makes will make any difference to the ignorant masses. At the end the day, the only thing that will stop people doing stupid things with drones in public is being charged by Police under public nuisance/hazard type laws, or being subject to civil liability.

    There is nothing in the current rules which requires a UOC if the UAV is kept within line of sight (carefully read 101.235(2) – This is one of the rules that CASA propose on changing, but there is no evidence that this change is actually linked to safety outcomes).

    CASA’s media campaign also contains a lot of mis-information. People should read the actual rules carefully and compare that with the propaganda that CASA is publishing.

  • Trent


    Agree with the Zebra. A large number are not happy about it. A petition by pilots has been set up at http://chn.ge/1jHZ3lY

  • Lex


    This is quite frankly madness. We have already had near misses, is it going to take the death of some poor helicopter or hot air balloon passengers before this is taken seriously? A <2KG anything will seriously damage a helicopter tail rotor or main rotor system, let along one with spinning carbon fibre propellers… I wonder if CASA has taken that into account when they say 'poses no risk to aviation safety'.
    Sure, away from CTA, <400ft blah blah blah – how the hell are these uneducated, unlicensed drone controllers even going to know what 'CTA' means let alone where CTA is. How do they know how to read a VTC if they aren't required to a) learn what a VTC is b) learn where a VTC can be obtained and c) learn how to read a VTC…? I know people who are operating (legally) in the Sydney basin, in helicopters at 300 ft. What happens when some dickhead flies his DJi phatom into their tail rotor? Does anyone honestly want to become a martyr for good legislation and education? Lift your game CASA. The S stands for safety.



    Zebra, do you actually fly UAV’s or just a toy aircraft

  • Dronester


    Well done Zebra. Someone who actually knows the rules and what is really going on!

    @UAVMC a UAV flown within line of sight of the pilot IS a toy aircraft (or at least can be legally operated as one). Read the rules like Zebra says. 101.235 Applicability

  • phantomuser


    Good proposal by CASA. There is no point applying a law which they cannot enforce and it is stupid enough to think that someone will spend $7000 to fly $1000 plastic toy. Even a $30 kmart hell also poses the risk to blind someone, stop that if you can.

    And people who are afraid of this regulation must understand that if you stand near a Dji Phantom flying by a user with less than 30 hours of experience, it doesn’t matter what his motive of flying is, he and you and all around poses the same risk. And not all crash are pilot fault, there is always chance of mechanical failure, although pilots are held responsible. All drivers in the country have some sort of license to drive, yet there are deaths and accidents, so is licensing really helps accident, a big NO. I own 2KG, 4kg, 6kg copters and have quite a bit of experience and nothing changes the fact that a piece of certificate issued by CASA based on 90% theory which is not 100% applicable to UAV and a manual flying test with one time risk assessment is going to change a thing on my flying behaviour.

  • CommonSense


    If the rationale behind this is “there is no point in applying a law which CASA can’t enforce” then why specify ANY weight categories at all, when no one is going to be able to check or verify the difference between a 2kg drone or 3kg drone operation. Are CASA inspectors going to run around with NATA calibrated scales to measure who’s flying a 2, 2.5kg or 5kg drone? I think not. If CASA can’t enforce basic RPAS rules in this sector then weight categories are totally irrelevant regardless of their safety implications. They still need to be policed, even if the proposed 2kg ruling is approved. Go figure!

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