Governing the use of RPAs – Safety & Regulation
3rd Annual Police Technology Forum
Canberra - 18 March 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The broader use of the term ‘drone’ can be heard in news stories where the military go after the enemy using unmanned aircraft to seek and destroy. However, in this case we are talking about the civil use of unmanned aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft operations in civil airspace. In CASA, keeping in line with the ICAO taxonomy, we use the terms Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and remote pilots.
RPAS as a policing tool
CASA believes that advances in aviation technology, particularly in remotely piloted systems, can be harnessed effectively for emergency services including the police. RPAs have become a recognised cost effective policing tool throughout the world, exhibiting excellent capabilities for use in areas of rugged terrain, especially during searches for missing people or for illicit drug crops. Other possible uses of future capabilities might include:
- more effective tactical surveillance at less risk of detection
- more effective reconnaissance of emergency situations such as search and rescue, and accident response; and
- use as a communication relay in areas with difficult access or significant risk.
Further, I believe that possibility of positioning micro UAVs (with no potential aviation safety risk) for intelligence gathering will be a development in the future.
From CASA’s perspective, obviously the consideration of safety comes to the forefront of our decisions - we have an important part to play in setting practical and effective regulation of RPA in the civil airspace. The safety of other airspace users, as well as the safety of people and property on the ground is CASA’s priority in this rapidly growing sector.
CASA’s current regulatory framework
An operating certificate and remote pilot certificate are required to be issued by CASA to conduct RPA operations. When we drafted the rules some years ago, it was assumed that RPAs would be similar to the type used in military systems; however, that is not proving to be the case now. Instead, the technology has advanced so quickly in this area that small, off-the-shelf types are able to provide diverse capability for a range of applications.
The combination of significant technological advances and associated cost reductions have made RPAs more accessible, including at the very small end of the RPA scale, equivalent to the hobby level, have made the application of regulations somewhat ineffective. This issue is further heightened when the same aircraft could be used as a model aircraft; the difference being their use. Let me delve into this topic bit more.
The current Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) Part 101 deals with unmanned aircraft, model aircraft and rockets. This regulation was promulgated in 2002 and the first UAV Operators’ Certificate was issued in 2003. Under this regulation, both small and large RPA have been treated similarly with respect to the approval requirements for operations; individuals are required to have a Controller’s Certificate, whereas, the operating entity has to hold a UAV Operators’ Certificate. This regulation is rapidly becoming outdated.
Proposed regulatory framework
CASA is in the process of amending the regulations taking account of considerations such as:
- categorising RPAs by weight;
- looking at options to provide more flexible requirements for small commercial RPA operators;
- assessing restrictions on flight in the vicinity of aerodromes; and
- aligning terminology with ICAO and making appropriate changes to the documented procedures.
CASA is also considering issuing a Manual of Standards that will contain licensing, controlled airspace training, records management, operational and prescribed area standards. The advantage of having these requirements in a Manual of Standards is that it allows CASA to respond quickly to changing circumstances - a must in a fast-moving technological field such as RPAS. These amendments are expected to be made in the second half of this year.
The amendments also will include a requirement for those operating under standard conditions to not fly in an area where emergency services operations are being conducted.
The new amendments will be accompanied by a number of new and updated Advisory Circulars providing comprehensive guidance on complying with the regulations and general information. Further, to support uncertified and unlicensed operators, CASA will develop a registration system and web portal to provide some degree of assurance of the safety of these operations.
The regulations currently require specific approval or exemption for operations beyond visual line-of-sight. Once the amendments are bedded-down, work will begin on a new CASR Part 102 that will provide regulations covering the operation of all RPAs, including beyond visual line-of-sight operations, operating in IFR/VFR in non-segregated airspace, and other complex operations including various degrees of autonomy and automation. To this end, CASA is developing, in association with industry, a strategic plan - a flightplan if you like, that will guide regulatory progress for more complex operations, setting out the prerequisites for each stage of development.
CASA’s engagement with the aviation community forms a significant part of standards development, educational, advisory and operational activities. We understand the importance of maintaining a meaningful, cooperative and mutually respectful relationship with the aviation community.
Development of the complete regulatory framework for RPAS will be a lengthy effort and cannot be done in isolation, we need to develop procedures and processes consistently taking into account the work of ICAO and the leading manufacturers of RPAS from the US, Europe and Asia.
As you are probably aware, CASA works very closely with the aviation community through the Standards Consultative Committee (SCC), which is made up of a number of subordinate groups, to make recommendations to CASA on the development of regulations, standards and other associated advisory material.
Under the patronage of the SCC, a RPAS Working Group was formed to review regulations and advisory material with an objective of providing more comprehensive guidance to industry on the regulatory requirements and approval processes for commercial operation of RPAs in Australia.
Some characteristics of RPAs need to be regulated by agencies other than CASA. National Security, Law Enforcement and Emergency Management are all areas where certain characteristics that are not aviation safety related might be effectively regulated federally or at the state level, for example;
- carriage of certain mission equipment, if that is normally subject to State or police oversight or limitation;
- some functions when such activities are normally subject to state (or police) legal limitations; and
- operations in certain areas or over certain activities where aviation safety is not a factor.
There are other areas that might be of interest regarding countering use of RPAs in certain circumstances. The ability to limit entry to certain areas; or to interfere with control systems or mission payloads might be the subject of further discussion. If such things require permissions or rule changes, either by CASA or other regulatory agencies, then the thinking and rule-making should probably commence now, so that the controls can be both legal and effective when needed.
Current process for approving RPA Operations
The current process for obtaining a RPA operator’s certificate, while rigorous, is quite straight forward and relatively inexpensive. The following actions are required to obtain an operator's certificate:
- undertake the exams for the relevant Private Pilot’s Licence theory;
- obtain a UAV Controller Certificate;
- apply for an Instrument Rating exam exemption;
- complete a risk assessment on the planned operations;
- develop operations, flight and maintenance manuals, and
- entry control interview and flight test (fit and proper person test still applies).
As you can see, the approvals process however, is quite onerous and time consuming. The good news is that we are looking to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the approval processes so that emergency services might have specific certificates that provide for operations outside the standard parameters with none or minimal administration, particularly where life or limb is at risk. Property risk may not be given the same priority. In the meantime, we have taken necessary steps through our RPAS Office, to prioritise EMS applications and provide all the assistance they can to such agencies who may be seeking an approval.
Further, we are looking at options to grant the necessary approvals or permissions to contracted UOC holders if the services are provided in support of police or emergency services operations - this will ease some administrative pressures for individual Police forces or services to have their own UOC for these purposes.
Challenges and current limitations
The widespread use of RPAs, both in numbers and location, poses a significant challenge for CASA. It takes a while for us to ensure that applicants for operator certificates as well as the hobbyists understand the potential impact of their activities on other airspace users.
At the moment, the majority of small RPA in the Australian market are based on model aircraft technology. The aircraft are relatively simple and the controller is usually a hand held remote controller.
Some small RPAs, for example, the Scan Eagle and the Aerosonde, have advanced remote pilot stations with ‘wrap-around’ screens, which places the operator in a virtual cockpit that allows multiple views of what is going on around the RPA. In the future, the remote pilot station could be built around more advanced intuitive interface technology.
Aircraft operating under the VFR use ‘see-and-avoid’ as a method for preventing mid-air conflicts. RPAs do not have the ability to ‘see-and-avoid’ other aircraft, therefore the majority of Area Approvals have been granted to RPAs operating within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) limiting the area of operation.
Advances in technology permit large RPAs to operate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). CASA expects an increase in applications for BVLOS operations to conduct activities such as bushfire-spotting, shark spotting, search and rescue, police surveillance and geological surveys. CASA has provided segregated airspace for BVLOS operations due to the potential risk of confliction with other aircraft. This policy will need to be reviewed as technology advances permit ‘sense-and-avoid’ operations by RPA.
We are considering the long term integration of RPA into aviation operations in all classes of airspace. However, there are significant technological advances, regulatory changes, training and skills, procedures, documentation and education that needs to happen before integration in all classes of airspace can take place.
Further, there are a significant number of technical issues for which standards have not been yet determined around the world.
Dealing with matters related to privacy is not part of CASA’s role; it is a matter for the Australian Privacy Commissioner. We are continuing to engage with the Commissioner and with all other appropriate stakeholders with a view of addressing safety related issues.
While matters related to privacy is not part of our role, CASA does encourage approved operators to adopt a fly neighbourly policy and reminds operators to become familiar with obligations in relation to privacy, nuisance and trespass.
Public perception is a big issue for CASA - how the public perceive RPA operations in general is important to us if we are to integrate them into non-segregated airspace or allow operations over populous areas.
Use of RPA will continue to expand as technologies and performance characteristics become better understood. We have to get the message across that RPA do provide benefits, and this is not just delivering pizzas or magazines. Law enforcement is definitely one of these benefits, locating illicit drug crops or defusing a hostage situation without the loss of life would be good news stories that would show the benefits of RPA.
CASA recognises the needs of the industry to be able to develop and use RPA in the Australian airspace in the shortest possible timeframe. However, we have an obligation to allow these operations in a manner that guards safety of other airspace users, as well as the safety of persons and property on the ground. Having said that, let me reiterate, CASA supports the legitimate use of RPAs as a policing tool around Australia and where possible we will make practical and safe ways to advance operations in the civil airspace.