08 November 2019

CASR amendments to require registration of drones

This article was updated on 8 November 2019.

Amendments have been made to the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (Cth) (CASR) that will come into effect on 1 April 2020, or a later date that is proclaimed. The amendments aim to address the increase in safety incidents involving drones, by establishing new accreditation and registration schemes that allow the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to exercise greater oversight over drone use.  

The amendments to CASR represent a change in Australia’s approach to regulating drones, moving away from a historically passive approach to one that offers CASA a much more active role. The amendments will have a number of potential impacts to businesses who use or are planning to use drones, including:

  • (Requirement to register and obtain accreditation) Operators of drones that were previously exempt from the requirement to obtain a remote pilot licence and an operator’s certificate, such as mining companies and farm owners that operated drones on private property, will be required to register their drone and obtain the appropriate accreditation.
  • (Notification to CASA) CASA will need to be notified before the first use in each 12-month period of a very small, small or medium drone if the operator is relying on an exemption to the licensing requirements. Drones can be notified via CASA’s online portal.
  • (Potential for more enforcement of breaches) Given that CASA will be able to easily trace registered drones to their owner, businesses should take further precautions to ensure that their use of drones is safe and compliant with the requirements in CASR.

Background to the changes

The use of drones is continuing to grow, with an estimated one million drones now operating in Australia. In addition to increased recreational use, there are a growing number of commercial uses for drones including the monitoring of agricultural assets, mines and telecommunications networks, delivery of goods and services, and remote surveying and mapping. While there is uncertainty over the exact figures, CASA estimates that around 10% of drone operations notified to CASA are currently for commercial purposes.

CASR was previously amended in 2016 to reduce regulatory and compliance costs associated with the use of drones (see our analysis on the 2016 amendments here). The 2016 amendments allowed a larger number of Australian businesses to use “small drones” for commercial uses without obtaining certification from CASA.

Since the 2016 amendments it has become clear that further regulation of drone safety is required, particularly in light of the growing number of safety incidents involving drones. For example, in late 2018 there was a high-profile incident at Gatwick Airport involving a drone sighted close to the runway, which resulted in the cancellation of approximately 1,000 flights and a reported cost of £50 million.

There have also been recent incidents in Australia. In March this year six water bomber aircrafts and two support aircrafts responding to a bushfire in Esperance were grounded after drones were sighted within the bushfire warning area. In May, it was believed that a drone flying into the Western Power network in Perth was responsible for an electricity outage affecting around 3,000 Western Power customers.

Overview of the changes

The most significant changes made by the amendments to CASR are to:

  • broaden the licensing and certification requirements under CASR;
  • introduce a requirement for most drones to be registered with CASA; and
  • establish an accreditation regime for the operators of drones. 

The following table summarises the licensing, registration and accreditation requirements in CASR for each category of drone once the amendments to CASR come into effect:

    Category (by gross weight)

    Is a remote pilot license required?

    Is an operator's certificate required?

    Does the drone need to be registered?

    Does the operator need accreditation?

    Micro

    250g or less>

    No

    No

    Yes

    Yes

    Very small

    > 250g and up to 2kg

    Yes, unless the drone is being operated within standard operating conditions.[1]  

    CASA must be notified before the first operation of the drone in each 12-month period if the operator is relying on this exemption.

    Yes, unless the drone is being operated within standard operating conditions.

    CASA must be notified before the first operation of the drone in each 12-month period if the operator is relying on this exemption.

    Yes

    Yes, but only if a remote pilot licence and an operator’s certificate are not required (i.e. the exemptions in the columns to the left apply).

    Small

    > 2kg and up to 25kg

    Yes, unless operated on private property for certain purposes including:

    ▪ aerial spotting

    ▪ aerial photography

    ▪ agricultural operations

    ▪ aerial communications retransmission

    ▪ carriage of cargo

    ▪ similar activities

    where such purposes are not remunerated and are within “standard operating conditions”.

    CASA must be notified before the first operation of the drone in each 12-month period if the operator is relying on this exemption.

    Yes, unless operated on private property for certain purposes including:

    ▪ aerial spotting

    ▪ aerial photography

    ▪ agricultural operations

    ▪ aerial communications retransmission

    ▪ carriage of cargo

    ▪ similar activities

    where such purposes are not remunerated and are within “standard operating conditions”.

    CASA must be notified before the first operation of the drone in each 12-month period if the operator is relying on this exemption.

    Yes

    Yes, but only if a remote pilot licence and an operator’s certificate are not required (i.e. the exemptions in the columns to the left apply).

    Medium

    > 25kg and up to 150kg

    Yes.[2]  

    Yes, unless operated on private property for certain purposes including:

    ▪ aerial spotting

    ▪ aerial photography

    ▪ agricultural operations

    ▪ aerial communications retransmission

    ▪ carriage of cargo

    ▪ similar activities

    where such purposes are not remunerated and are within “standard operating conditions".

    CASA must be notified before the first operation of the drone in each 12-month period if the operator is relying on this exemption.

    Yes

    No, because a remote pilot licence is required.

    Large

    150kg or more

    Yes

    Yes, in addition to a special certificate of airworthiness or an experimental certificate.

    No, as the operator is always required to hold a remote pilot licence and operator’s certificate.

    No, as the operator is always required to hold a remote pilot licence and operator’s certificate.

Licensing and certification

As summarised in the table above, CASR prescribes licensing and certification requirements for drones according to their weight. When the amendments to CASR commence, if a person operates a drone without a remote pilot license or operator’s certificate where they are required by CASR to do so, fines of up to $10,500 may be issued to them.

The amendments to CASR make a number of changes to the requirements in CASR to obtain remote pilots licenses and operator’s certificates, including to:

  • limit exemptions for very small drones, restricting the situations where operators of drones are exempt from the licensing requirements. In particular, there will no longer be an exception from the requirement to obtain a remote pilot license and operator’s certificate for very small drones used for “sport or recreation”
  • change notification requirements, requiring operators of very small, small or medium drones to notify CASA before the first use of the drone in each 12-month period if the drone falls under a licensing exemption
  • amend weight categories for drone classification, including to classify drones that weigh up to 250g as micro.  Previously, only drones weighing up to 100g were micro drones, with drones weighing above 100g considered very small drones.

Registration

CASR will require all micro, very small, small, and medium drones to be registered with CASA before use. This allows CASA to link a drone serial number to a registered operator, helping them identify operators that have used their drone unsafely or unlawfully.

Drones can be registered by submitting an online application and paying a registration fee (still to be determined). The registration can be for commercial or recreational operation, with a different registration fee applying to each type of operation. The fee is expected to be between $100 and $160 for commercial operation, and $20 or less for recreational operation. Registrations for drones must be renewed every 12 months.

Fines of up to $10,500 can be issued to operators of drones who do not comply with the registration requirements.

Accreditation

Another key feature of the amendments to CASR is the requirement for operators to obtain accreditation with CASA before using their drone, if they are not already required to have a remote pilot licence or an operator’s certificate. With the existing education campaigns considered insufficient to mitigate against the risks posed by unsafe and unlawful drone operation, these amendments were introduced to ensure that owners and operators of drones are aware of their general and aviation safety obligations.

To become accredited, an operator needs to have their identity verified, complete an online training course and conduct an online examination. Their accreditation must be renewed every 3 years.

When the amendments to CASR commence, fines of up to $10,500 can be issued to operators of drones who do not comply with the accreditation requirements.

Contact us

If you currently use, or are planning to use, a drone in your business, you should consider what steps you need to take to ensure you are compliant with CASR. If you need further advice on the impact of these changes, please contact us.


[1] To comply with “standard operating conditions”, the drone must:

  • be operated within the person’s unassisted visual line of sight;
  • be operated at or below 400 feet above ground level by day;
  • be operated by a person who is only operating that drone;
  • not be operated within 30 metres of a person who is not directly associated with the operation of the drone;
  • not be operated in a prohibited or restricted area (for example, military areas);
  • not be operated over a populous area (that is, an area which has a density of population where, for example, a fault in operation of the drone would be likely to pose an unreasonable risk to the life, safety or property of another person);
  • not be operated within 3 nautical miles of an aerodrome; and
  • not be operated over an area where a fire, police or other public safety or emergency operation is being conducted without approval of the person in charge of the operation.

[2] Note that the owner of a medium drone operated over land owned or leased by the owner of the drone does not require a remote pilot licence if the operator has one and the drone is operated for certain purposes including aerial spotting, aerial photography, agricultural operations, aerial communications retransmission, carriage of cargo and similar activities, where such purposes are not remunerated and are within “standard operating conditions”.

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