This has been a momentous period for Micro UAS. The FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee has made its recommendations, the first step in the long process of rulemaking. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Australians have just finished their Micro UAS rulemaking. Today, we take a look at the Australian approach and how it compares with the FAA’s philosophy.

First, the Australians have decided to officially drop the term UAV and replace it with RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft). This change was done to make the regulations consistent with the terminology used by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The regulations then go on to create five classes of RPA:

Micro RPA                  less than 100 grams (3.5 ounces)

Very Small RPA         100 grams to 2 kg (3.5 ounces to 4.4 pounds)

Small RPA                  2 kg to 25 kg (4.4 pounds to 55 pounds)

Medium RPA              25 kg to 150 kg (55 pounds to 330 pounds)

Large RPA                  150 kg (330 pounds)

Depending on how the various classes of RPA are used, they become either excluded or included RPA. Micro RPA are always excluded RPA, and are not subject to government regulation. Very small RPA are excluded if they are being flown for hobby or recreational purposes or are being operated under “standard RPA operating conditions.”

Small RPA are excluded if they are being flown as hobby aircraft or if they are flown by or on behalf of the owner, over the owner’s land, and under “standard RPA operating conditions.” In addition, the small RPA cannot be flown for compensation or hire. Essentially, the regulations do not cover flying your own small UAS on your own land for your own purposes. For example, a farmer could fly his UAS on his land to support his crop growing, without coming under the RPA regulations.

Medium RPA are excluded on the same terms as small RPA, but only if they are also being flown by someone who “holds a remote pilot license” that is valid for that type of RPA.

The standard operating conditions are fairly easy to meet. You must:

  1. Operate within visual line of sight,
  2. Operate during daylight at or below 400′,
  3. Remain at least 30 meters (98 feet) from persons not involved in the operation of the RPA,
  4. Outside a populated area,
  5. Remain 3 nautical miles from an airport
  6. Away from any fire or police emergency without permission

Of all of these changes, the most significant are the clear definition of a micro RPA that is freed from all aviation regulation, and the adoption of this new philosophy towards operating RPA on your own property. Rather than drawing the line for regulation where any commercial activity is involved as we do in the United States, the Australians are limiting their regulatory activities to circumstances where a third party is flying for compensation or hire or you want to fly outside the standard conditions. CASA is essentially telling even large commercial entities, if you want to operate your own UAS on your own property to support your business, whether it be mining, agriculture or similar activities, just fly using the standard conditions, and we really don’t want to be involved in the day-to-day supervision of your operations.

Originally posted April 13, 2016