Australian Drone Law on Registration & Accreditation: Part 2 – Pilot Accreditation.
Published: 13 November 2019
Australia’s drone laws have recently been amended however not in force yet. The pending changes include some amended definitions, and provisions for drone registration and pilot accreditation.
Following our articles on drone registration and the offences lurking in the new drone laws, this article aims to complete the puzzle with an executive summary on the drone pilot accreditation scheme.
While we try to adopt the quote attributed to Einstein – “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”, the accreditation provisions contained more than 60 changes to the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations which has made it difficult to make this as short as we would prefer. We have broken the article up into headings and sub-headings for ease of navigation.
 If you already have a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL), then the accreditation requirements generally do not apply to you.
 If you do not have a RePL, then you can apply to CASA for accreditation to operate either:
(a) an excluded Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), micro RPA and model aircraft; OR
(b) a model aircraft only.
 Accreditation or a RePL is required to operate any RPA; accreditation will only be required to operate a model aircraft over 250g.
 To be eligible for accreditation you must:
(a) be at least 16 years old; and
(b) have completed an online training course provided by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA); and
(c) have passed a CASA exam. (the ‘pass’ mark might be more than 50%).
 As to timing, drone registration and pilot accreditation will not be required until sometime between April and October 2020 for RPA, and sometime in 2022 for model aircraft. This distinction between RPA and model aircraft brings us to some upcoming terminology changes…
 Drones will be broken up into 2 distinct types: Remotely Piloted Aircraft; and Model Aircraft.
 RPA currently means a Remotely Piloted Aircraft, but not a balloon or a kite. The new definition states that an RPA is a remotely piloted aircraft but not a balloon, kite or model aircraft.
 A model aircraft is currently defined as an aircraft that is used for sport or recreation, and cannot carry a person. The new definition states that a model aircraft is an aircraft, but not a balloon or a kite, that does not carry a person AND IF the aircraft is being operated for:
(a) the purpose of sport or recreation; AND has a gross weight of not more than 150 kg; OR
(b) is being operated for certain educational, training or research purposes AND has a gross weight of not more than 7 kg.
 The new regulations make it very clear that while both can be drones, an RPA is not a model aircraft.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
 The designated weight categories to distinguish the different types of drones are changing.
[a] The most significant change is that the ‘micro RPA’ category is increasing from a gross weight of 100g or less, to a gross weight of 250g or less.
[b] The upshot of this is that the next bracket – ‘very small RPA’ which is currently a gross weight of more than 100g but less than 2kg, will be bumped up to a gross weight of more than 250g but not more than 2kg.
 RPA and Model Aircraft will be captured under Civil Aviation Act 1988 provisions requiring aircraft registration and licensing, but will be exempt from requiring a certificate of airworthiness (except large RPA with a gross weight of more than 150kg).
Who can be accredited?
 Two or more persons cannot jointly hold an accreditation.
 A remote pilot under the age of 16 must be supervised by an accredited person 18 years of age or over when operating any RPA or model aircraft over 250g;
Accreditation to operate an ‘excluded’ drone
 Flying an excluded RPA will generally not require a RePL but will require accreditation.
 The meaning of ‘excluded RPA’ is changing. It is important to note that at the date of this article, the new provisions are not yet in place and so the current definition of excluded RPA must still be relied on at present. However, given this article is about the new laws, we refer to the new provisions.
 A very small RPA (more than 250g but not more than 2kg) is an excluded RPA if it is being operated in standard RPA operating conditions.
 A small RPA (more than 2kg not more than 25kg) is an excluded RPA if it is being operated:
(a) by or on behalf of the owner of the RPA; and
(b) over land owned or occupied by the owner of the RPA; and
(c) in standard RPA operating conditions; and
(d) for certain purposes including aerial photography, agricultural operations, the carriage of cargo, and any similar activity; AND for which no remuneration is paid or received.
(e) in standard RPA operating conditions and for the sole purpose of meeting the experience requirement for the grant of a RePL; OR a RePL holder getting practical experience in the operation of an RPA of a category that is specified in the licence.
 A medium RPA (more than 25kg but note more than 150kg) is an excluded RPA if it is being operated:
(a) by or on behalf of the owner of the RPA; and
(b) by a person who holds a RePL; and
(c) over land owned or occupied by the owner of the RPA; and
(d) in standard RPA operating conditions; and
(e) for certain purposes including aerial photography, agricultural operations, the carriage of cargo, and any similar activity; AND for which no remuneration is paid or received.
 An RPA is an excluded RPA if it is being operated by a person solely for the purpose of the person receiving training from a certified RPA operator and in accordance with the operator’s documented training procedures.
 The ‘standard RPA operating conditions’ can be summarised as follows:
(a) RPA operated within the visual line of sight of the pilot; and
(b) RPA is operated at or below 400 ft Above Ground Level (AGL) by day; and
(c) RPA is not operated within 30 m of a person who is not directly associated with the operation of the RPA; and
(d) the RPA is not operated:
(i) in a prohibited area; or
(ii) in a restricted area that is classified as RA3; or
(iii) in a restricted area that is classified as RA2 or RA1 otherwise than in accordance with regulation 101.065; or
(iv) over a populous area; or
(v) within 3 nautical miles of the movement area of a controlled aerodrome; and
(e) the RPA is not operated over an area where a fire, police or other public safety or emergency operation is being conducted without the approval of a person in charge of the operation; and
(f) the person operating the RPA operates only that RPA.
Trouble in the Sky
 If CASA has reasonable grounds for believing that there are facts or circumstances that would justify the variation, suspension or cancellation of a licence/certification, then CASA may give a ‘Show Cause’ notice to the holder of a licence/certification who must ‘show cause’ why their licence/certification should not be varied, suspended or cancelled.
 A show cause notice must:
(a) tell the holder of the licence/accreditation of the facts and circumstances that, in CASA’s opinion, would justify the variation, suspension or cancellation of the licence/accreditation; and
(b) invite the holder of the licence/accreditation to show in writing, within a reasonable time stated in the notice, why the licence/accreditation should not be varied, suspended or cancelled.
 CASA may vary, suspend or cancel a remote pilot licence or RPA accreditation by written notice to the holder of the licence/accretiation IF CASA has:
(a) issued a show cause notice; and
(b) taken into account ant representations of the holder, and
(c) CASA has reasonable grounds for believing that the holder has operated an RPA in contravention of the Regulations, or a condition of the licence/accreditation; or negligently or carelessly; or, has recklessly endangered human life or property.
 A licence/accreditation can be suspended immediately if CASA reasonably considers that there may be a serious risk to the safety of air navigation.
 If the licence/accreditation is immediately suspended, if CASA has not dealt with the suspension within 90 days after the day the licence is suspended, the suspension lapses at the end of that period.
 During any suspension period the holder is taken not to be the holder of a licence/accreditation during the period of suspension; and the licence/accreditation is not in force while suspended;
 An applicant is not eligible for an accreditation if an accreditation formerly held by the applicant has been cancelled within the 12 months before the date of the application; or while an accreditation currently held by the applicant is suspended.
When accreditation ceases
 An accreditation ceases at the start of the earlier of the following days (unless sooner cancelled):
(a) if the person holding the accreditation is granted a remote pilot licence— the day after the licence is granted;
(b) the day after the end of the period of 3 years beginning on the day the accreditation comes into effect.
If you’ve made it this far, we applaud you. The accreditation requirements get murky at times and trying to whittle it down into a more digestible format has involved months of review, cross-checking and attempted simplification. We hope you have a better grasp of it all, we are always open to a call or email.
The Drone Lawyer
13 November 2019
Please note: this is information of a general nature and is not legal advice. However, if you would like legal advice, please be in touch.