Regulating RPAs for safer operations
Australian Association for Unmanned Systems - keynote Address
Canberra - 7 March 2016
Thank you for the warm introduction. I would like to welcome everyone to the conference - a good turnout. We–CASA and industry–must remain focused to deliver outcomes that promote safety as our number one priority. Events such as this conference are very important for us to share experiences so that we all hear different viewpoints and act in unison to achieve our number one priority - aviation safety.
Civil aviation operates within a framework of ICAO’s technical and operational standards and recommended practices (SARPs), which are currently based on having a pilot on board operating the aircraft. The SARPs are the technical and operational existing controls, which in conjunction with airspace design and classification underpin safe and efficient flying operations in national airspace systems. Most Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) do not comply with many or any of these existing controls, which means they will introduce new safety risks to the aviation system.
Australia was the first country in the world to regulate RPAS when it published Civil Aviation Safety Regulation 1998 (CASR) Part 101 in 2002, which, when drafted, dealt with the technology of the time. CASR Part 101 treats both small and large RPAS similarly, with some additional requirements for large RPAS and allows operations both within and outside controlled airspace.
From CASA’s perspective, obviously the consideration of safety comes to the forefront of our decisions. Just reflect for a moment, if a certified operator uses a RPA for lifesaving patrols, for example to assist in the rescue of a drowning swimmer, there will be a positive public perception on our approvals. But it won’t be the same if one gets sucked into the engine of an Airbus on take-off.
Therefore, as Australia’s aviation regulator, we have an important part to play in setting practical and effective regulation of RPAs in the civil airspace.
Growth of the RPA and CASA’s focus on safety
Aviation is a dynamic environment, internationally and domestically and there are always a number of challenges for CASA and the aviation industry at large. While these challenges vary, both the industry and the regulator need to ensure that safety related considerations are given due notice. In the case of RPAs, this means ensuring the safety of any other airspace user as well as the safety of persons and property on the ground.
This sector has emerged as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade. Globally, civilian RPAs are set to become big business, eventually exceeding the defence market. By 2020 alone, the unmanned sector is projected to grow between 200 to 500 per cent. It is expected that the private sector will grow even more, but it is difficult to gauge exactly how many private RPAs will be flying in the future.
In February 2012, there were 15 holders of RPA Operators’ Certificates in Australia operating small RPAs for commercial purposes. Currently we have 459 approved operators on our books and anticipate having in excess of 600 approved by the end of June this year.
Whilst there is still a lot of growth in the small RPAS sector, there is also a notable increase in the growth of medium RPAS wanting to undertake complex operations, for example the recently announced Westpac mini-helicopter drone that will act as both a shark spotter along the NSW coastline and a life saver in rescue missions in bush, snow and sea. These are often military grade systems which are looking to the civilian world for new markets. Of significant concern, is that the capabilities and technology of RPAS are increasing faster than the regulations.
The problem for us is the extraordinary rate that these small RPAs are proliferating into the Australian airspace. With the prices as low as $400, anyone can buy a small, high performance multi-rotor RPA, equipped with high definition live stream video cameras, GPS, autopilot, and with decent flight time.
Not only will the magnitude of this sector grow, but so too will the complexity and diversity of airframes and aerial activity as well as the issues associated with the required volume of regulations and level of regulatory oversight which could be categorised as unchartered territory for CASA.
Key challenges CASA will encounter into the future in the RPA sector will be:
- substitution of RPAs for conventional and emerging aerial work tasks and roles;
- complete integration of RPAs into airspace;
- carriage of cargo by RPAs; and
- eventually the carriage of passengers in RPT operations by RPAs (Ehang 184 air taxi).
Prior to these activities becoming mainstream operations, standards and regulations must be developed in their entirety with supporting guidance material in collaboration with the entities that are likely to be affected by the proposed regulations. While the unequivocal focus as laid out by the CA Act needs to be safety, CASA must not only be socially competent but also responsive in its attempt to proceed without inhibiting the growth or potential of this rapidly growing sector which will continue to dominate the future of aviation for a long time. Balancing these principles is a huge challenge for CASA.
Our understanding is that approximately 90 per cent of the RPAs operating in Australia today are less than 7 Kgs are relatively inexpensive and easily accessible to individuals through the open market. As you would appreciate, due to increasing numbers and their varied capabilities, it is 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. Therefore, CASA is in the process of writing some rules it can control.
CASA’s approach for an updated regulatory framework
The principal objective in updating the regulation is to make it more relevant to the latest technology, make it more efficient and to enable a wider range of routine operational activities (i.e night operations).
CASR Part 101 currently divides RPA into small and large, based on a weight break of 150 kg (100 kg for rotorcraft). This 150 kg weight limit was arbitrarily based on the then category of ‘giant model aircraft’ and is not risk-based.
The entry control criteria will be assessed to more appropriately match with the level of complexity and risk posed by the applicant’s proposed operation. The current regulation is based on weight and to some extents, operational factors. We are trying to move towards a more operationally-based risk approach, rather than a prescriptive one based on weight, which in many cases is only a minor factor in determining the risk of an operation.
CASA is changing Part 101 and expects to implement the amended regulations in late 2016. Accompanying the amendments will be a Manual of Standards (MOS) following consideration by the joint CASA/industry Sub-committee, the wider industry and the general public. I will leave the Team Leader RPAS, Scott Duffy who is scheduled to talk in this forum to cover details.
Talking of future regulations, we are in the process of identifying the risks associated with different levels of weight and speed of the RPAs, based on the potential for harm to people on the ground, damage to property, or damage to other aircraft (in a way similar to a bird strike).
It is proposed that RPA will be divided into groups characterised by their weight. So far the work we have done leads us to believe that only RPA above a certain weight and outside certain operating conditions carry a heightened level of risk and therefore require a CASA approval.
RPA that are very small, for example less than 2kg would not require any approval, as RPA of this size are considered to pose a low risk and low potential for harm.
Large RPA will attract more stringent controls and will face greater scrutiny, for example, the Scan Eagle weighs about 20kg and is capable of flying to New Zealand. Therefore, in the interest of safety, it is prudent that the operator will be licensed, have a full risk assessment, and the operation will be treated like a conventionally-piloted aircraft.
This thinking is at an early stage, but certainly there is potential to have some constructive dialogue about this proposal. Again, I will leave Scott to provide more details in his presentation.
In other words CASA is trying to write some rules it can control without compromising safety.
Broader use of RPAs and integration with airspace
The use of RPAS will continue to expand as technologies and performance characteristics become better understood. Improved long duration flights, covert operational capabilities, and reduced operational costs serve as natural benefits to many communities, such as law-enforcement, agriculture and environmental sectors. As technologies develop, mature and become able to meet defined standards and regulations, RPA roles could expand to include more complex operations and eventually possibly even carrying passengers.
Any significant expansion will also depend upon the development and certification of technologies required to enable the safe and seamless integration of RPA into all classes of airspace. I am speaking here of the technologies relating to detect and avoid and to be seen and communicate with other aircraft and air traffic control.
Australian airspace is administered and regulated so that it is used safely consistent with ICAO standards. When making airspace decisions to integrate RPAS, CASA must also consider protection of the environment, airspace efficiency, equitable access for other airspace users and national security.
However, we will need to challenge the operational foundations of the airspace system which were originally drafted premised upon aircraft with pilots on board who are able to detect and avoid other aircraft and which were fitted with appropriate communications, navigation and surveillance equipment for each class of airspace.
The demand for small RPA flying visual line-of-sight for law enforcement, survey work, and aerial photography and video will continue to grow. Larger and more complex RPA, able to undertake more challenging tasks, will most likely begin to operate in controlled airspace where all traffic is known and where ATC is able to provide separation from other traffic.
CASA and industry must remain cognisant that RPA operations do not increase the risks to other airspace users, particularly passenger transport operations or to other airspace users who may be are unaware of the increased risk.
Integration of RPAS could conceivably lead to routine unmanned commercial cargo flights one day. In particular, the low weight/low volume parcel forwarding industry could be revolutionised by RPAs. Already Amazon, Google and Australia Post have been testing solutions to provide unmanned delivery of products. I hear that FEDEX has an application with the FAA for an unmanned Boeing 747 for cargo operations. While it is unlikely to be approved for some time, it is interesting to note where the future might be going.
Further, the literature review indicates that in 2030, it will be common to look up and see unmanned aircraft flying overhead enroute to a delivery. It is anticipated by 2030, UAS will be completely integrated into the airspace we know today, and interact with manned aircraft in a similar manner to how manned aircraft interact today. RPAs will also be a common sight below 400ft above ground level (AGL), used for surveillance, freight and delivery services as well as maintenance of infrastructure.
Currently, requests for Beyond Visual Line of Sight Area (BVLOS) approvals are increasing in frequency and complexity, requiring solutions to enable flights in controlled and non-controlled airspace. These are being dealt with on a case by case basis by our RPAS unit with the assistance of the Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) who establish danger areas and restricted airspace when required.
While CASA doesn’t have clear regulation in support of BVLOS operations, and more specifically airworthiness standards, CASA is still able to support the RPAS industry in developing BVLOS operations. The key limitations on broader use of RPAS is the lack of limited airworthiness standards and lack of limited information on reliable and high performing detect and avoid systems. There is also the lack of aircraft/system reliability data (including fail-safe systems), the lack of robust standards for aircraft communication, navigation, surveillance and telemetry and the need to meet current performance standards for on board equipment, much of which is too large and heavy to be easily integrated into RPAS. Many of these are technological issues that can only be resolved through international efforts and technology development.
CASA’s regulatory philosophy provides the opportunity for future regulations like CASR Part 102–commercial and large operations – to be risk based, graduated and proportionate, and able to consider reasonable alternative approaches in fulfilling regulatory requirements, as long as they do not compromise safety. This approach ensures that the dividends in safety, efficiency and cost reductions that can be leveraged from the utility and capability of remotely piloted aircraft are realised.
Prior to clearance being given for a widespread increase in RPAS operations in all classes of airspace, the work to develop regulations and standards to integrate with other airspace users must be completed. This can be a graduated process and should not predicate on any assumptions.
One of the key tasks, however, is mitigating the risk of not having a pilot on board which will need to be fully explored and developed. It may be necessary that technology allowing detect and avoid must come to maturity on a commercially available scale. Equally consideration to how such aerial systems comply with existing ATM procedures needs to be comprehensively developed. With the maturity of this industry segment, including the completion of the future regulations, the integration of RPAs in the airspace can occur congruent with the Airspace Act 2007 requirements safely integrating the operations of all airspace users.
Close interaction with ICAO and other international bodies
CASA continues to support the development of ICAO regulation and SARPs. CASA is a member of the ICAO RPAS Panel, which is developing standards and recommended practices for RPAS on a global level. So far, the Panel had amendments approved for Rules of the Air, Aircraft Nationality and Registration Marks, and Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation annexes. Further operational and licensing SARPs are being prepared, along with airworthiness and air traffic services. Current projections will see ICAO deliver new rules and amendments to the annexes from 2018 onwards.
As the regulator, we need to develop procedures and processes consistently taking into account the work of ICAO, JARUS and other NAA such as FAA, EASA, UKCAA, DGCA France and Transport Canada and the leading manufacturers of RPAS from the US, Europe and Asia. We do this because we want Australia to benefit from the potential of RPAS, both in a technology development sense and for what it can add to the efficiency, effectiveness and safety of other industries, such as agriculture, forestry, power and water distribution, and emergency services.
Our education and communication effort
I believe that a modern regulator should engage, educate and enforce fairly and proportionately, and only when necessary. In keeping with this broad framework, we have made a significant progress in developing a communication strategy focusing on safe practice when using RPAs. The aim of the strategy is to reduce the number of recorded RPA aviation occurrences and to prevent serious accidents involving RPAs.
The primary target audiences are RPA operators/UOC holders and new RPA operators. Secondary audiences are manned aircraft operators, general aviation pilots, model aircraft enthusiasts, police forces, local governments, firefighters, and electronics and hobby retailers.
It is my intent that along with the introduction of new regulations governing RPA operations, communication activity for RPAs will significantly increase with a range of activities designed to explain the rules in plain English. This will include a video, increased social media activity, revised web content and advertising in niche publications. In addition to this, development of a mobile device application with interactive maps is being explored with CASA’s IT Branch.
Let me delve into some details of our current and future planned activities.
- In 2013 the ‘Flying with control’ flyer outlining the rules for flying RPAs was first produced. Since that time, 200,000 copies of the flyer have been distributed to retailers such as Harvey Norman, Hobbyco and Jaycar for distribution at the point-of sale in the lead up to Christmas. Major retailers have been very cooperative in disseminating the information. We have also distributed flyers to manufacturers i.e. Parrot, DJI Phantom and Arilabs for placement inside the product packaging.
- Further in 2014, in collaboration with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre and state firefighting agencies, the ‘Don’t go there’ flyer was produced, highlighting the dangers of flying RPAs near bushfires. The flyer was distributed via state and regional fire brigades and at several events held during the season.
- In 2015, a new campaign titled ‘If you fly, they can’t’ is underway in partnership with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre. The campaign highlighted the danger of flying RPAs in bushfire zones. It was launched on 29 September via social media – primarily Facebook. Since the launch, it has reached over 430,000 people. The cost of this campaign was only $700.
The RPA website has also been updated with information about RPAs and emergencies. Since October 2015, our RPA safety messages have reached nearly 3 million via CASA’s social media channels.
In 2016 broader education activities targeting schools and local government are planned (just in late February, CASA participated in the Royal Canberra Show). This includes work with research and industry organisations, such as Queensland’s Australian Centre for Aerospace Automation to promote safe flying of RPAs.
Consultation and collaboration
CASA’s engagement with the aviation community forms a significant part of our standards development, and our educational, advisory and operational activities. I value the importance of maintaining a meaningful, collaborative and mutually respectful relationship with the aviation community. For this to happen, we need an environment within which we can work together in a collaborative and cohesive manner and this is what I’m championing within CASA.
I would like to see CASA and industry forming a strong and appropriate ‘safety partnership’ where we all play our roles in getting the best from the aviation safety system. I firmly believe that by collaborating, we will get the right safety outcomes from regulations and regulatory practices that support a vibrant and strong Australian aviation community.
The idea is to engage with our stakeholders at the grassroots level to fully understand the underlying aviation safety issues and problems faced by the aviation community and ensure CASA’s responsibilities have been identified – in fact this forum in one such opportunity.
Development of the complete regulatory framework for RPA will be a lengthy effort, it is an evolutionary process, with regulations being added or amended gradually. Our chief method of working with industry is through our UAS sub-committee, consisting of members from all sectors of the industry and government agencies. Working groups are attached to the committee and they provide advice on particular issues as needed.
We are also planning formal flight trials of different types of operations, for example BVLOS operations and equipment including detect and avoid systems to establish minimum operating standards for different types of RPAS operations.
We are currently looking at trial options under Part 149, where a basic training organisation will hold an Instrument of Delegation to perform limited RPAS related entry-control functions. If the trial is successful CASA will look at expanding this option to other organisations.
We are also looking at avenues to promote self-administering arrangements similar to the sport and recreational sector where we have had initial discussion with some associations.
In moving forward, CASA will look to less formal authorisation processes and rely on generic rules and requirements for risk management and working towards an integration of commercial and private operations to overcome historical problems and anomalies in the regulations.
CASA recognises the needs of the industry to be able to develop and use RPA in the Australian airspace in the shortest possible timeframe. The travelling public and people in the aviation community all expect safety to come first – we must deliver the appropriate safety outcomes for all sectors of aviation. But at the same time CASA must work to keep the regulatory burden as reasonable as possible. We must get the right safety outcomes without unintended consequences, unreasonable requirements or unnecessary costs.
However, we have an obligation of allowing these operations in a manner that guards safety of other airspace users, as well as the safety of persons and property on the ground. Further, there are a significant number of technical issues for which standards have not yet been determined around the world. As I’ve said before, we will take into account international developments and where possible we will make practical and safe ways to advance the operations of RPS in the civil environment.
In closing, I commend the work AAUS is doing to look at some of the challenges posed by the rapid growth of RPA operations. Lets work together in meeting those challenges successfully to achieve better safety outcomes.