Reflections on the first ‘decade of drones’ in Australia

Although Australia was the first country in the world to introduce formal aviation regulations for UAVs in July 2001, the ‘explosion of development’ that was expected to quickly follow, did not materialize. Over the next decade, less than a dozen certified operators made the grade with CASA. This was largely due to the infancy of the industry at the time, with few actual commercial products available on the market. Bear in mind that this was still in the age of film cameras, analogue transmission systems and Nicad batteries, even Multicopters were still another 5 years away!

By 2009 the industry was virtually stalled from lack of commercial development, and the complexities of certification. It didn’t help that CASA had all but abandoned the unmanned sector in 2005, closing the UAV office and redirecting staff to other priorities. Although digital systems were becoming the norm and Multicopters were starting to have an impact on industry, certification was still troubling, particularly for the many new entrants to the industry with no aviation background.

Worried for the future of a new industry we had all heavily invested in, the certified operators decided we could better represent ourselves in national discussions about the state of the industry and its future, and ACUO was formed.

One of the first tasks for ACUO was to alert CASA to the realities of the industry and the fact that, without proper guidance, newcomers to the industry would continue to avoid the difficulties of certification and operate illegally. What was needed was more publicly available information from the aviation regulator, a formal training regime specific to UAVs, and some form of surveillance and enforcement action specific to industry. Unfortunately CASA wasn’t listening. By 2013 the then Director of CASA, John McCormack, had publicly admitted CASA could not effectively regulate drones anymore.

Since then we have listened very intently to what industry was saying and have represented industry at the highest levels of government. Unlike other associations, ACUO actually talks with our members on a daily basis, seeking to understand the issues raised, and doing our best to represent the commercial sector fairly and openly.

Just some of the work accomplished by ACUO over the last decade includes:

ACUO successfully represented a number of early certified operators, in negotiations with CASA, to recover qualifications which were not issued at the time of initial certification.

ACUO press CASA to publish a list of ReOC holders [the same as they do for AOC holders]

ACUO submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs (SPLA) relating to Drones and Privacy

ACUO submission to the federal govt independent review into Aviation Safety Regulations, detailing regulatory and safety issues in the unmanned sector

ACUO submission to the CASA NPRM1309s, rejecting CASA’s proposal to deregulate RPAS under 2kgs

ACUO public appeal to federal govt to adequately resource CASA to combat illegal UAV activity

ACUO submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References

Committee, into current and prospective use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by the Australian Defence Force

[seeking a more collaborative approach between the RPAS industry and DoD]

ACUO challenged CASA’s Part 101 regulatory amendments. Whilst we were ultimately unsuccessful in having the amendments disallowed, it did force a senate enquiry into the efficacy of those amendments. Since then we have seen CASA wind back many of the freedoms given to the ‘Excluded RPA’ class of operators initially

Prior to this, much of what CASA displayed on their website relating to RPAS was copied from ACUO correspondence, submissions and website

ACUO make a public plea for an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system

An MOU is signed between ACUO and AFAP, to pursue the development and safe integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) into the common civilian airspace

The senate enquiry largely supported what ACUO had been saying. Of 20 recommendations made by ACUO in our submission to the senate enquiry, 7 of those recommendations were also adopted by the senate, including a ‘whole-of-govt-response’ to industry development, mandatory registration and training, and tighter surveillance and enforcement strategies. The subsequent Government response to the senate enquiry upheld 7 of the 10 senate recommendations, including a ‘whole-of-govt-response’ to industry development and mandatory registration and training

New sub-committees within ACUO are formed to develop specific sector requirements

[see separate article below]

An MOU is signed between ACUO and the ATSB, providing for open and transparent dialogue between us to improve transport safety as the unmanned sector grows

ACUO has made comprehensive submissions to CASA and related forums relating to;

  • The draft MOS and the proposed RePL training package
  • Registration and Accreditation

In our ongoing discussions with CASA, ACUO continues to seek;

  • Changes and improvements to the Flight Authorization process
  • Effective surveillance and enforcement across the wider industry, not just ReOC holders
  • A level playing field for all commercial operators
  • An effective national UTM system
This blog post was originally published with permission by the ACUO and with all credit to the author, Brad Mason. You can view the original article here.

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