CASA makes Macro Amendments to Micro Drone Operations…again!
Published: 20 April 2021
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has tweaked the law to allow approvals for indoor and outdoor operation of micro RPAs (250 grams or less gross weight) within 30 metres of a person who does not have duties essential to the control or navigation of the drone. This tweak also provides for CASA to give approvals to operate more than 1 micro RPA or model aircraft at a time. Before this tweak, CASA was legislatively unable to do this.
Most of you will be familiar with Instrument number CASA 55/20 — Operation of Certain Unmanned Aircraft Directions 2020. If you’re not, and if you’re a drone operator, it’s an absolute must read and is available here. From hereon, I will refer to this Instrument simply as “55/20”.
In short, 55/20 is a little piece of regulation that didn’t get into the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) but is nonetheless part of the package. In hyper-summary, it fleshes out some of the regulations around operations near aerodromes, operations higher than 400 ft AGL, operations over areas in which emergency operations are being conducted, operations of RPA and model aircraft near people, and operating multiple model aircraft and RPA – yes, some pretty important stuff.
In April 2021, CASA released: CASA 22/21 — Operation of Certain Unmanned Aircraft Directions Amendment Instrument 2021, which we will simply call “22/21”.
22/21 is not a self-sufficient Instrument. That is, it simply shows the amendments that must be made to 55/20. That is, the words that you need to add, delete or replace in 55/20. This means that to really make sense of the changes, you need both 22/21 and 55/20 open. However, 55/20 now incorporates these changes so if you’re not a drone law nerd and just want to see the end result, it’s all there in 55/20.
Notably, an earlier Instrument (86/20) amended 55/20 to empower CASA to permit the operation of a micro RPA indoors within 30 metres of a person who does not have duties essential to the control or navigation of that RPA.
Since then, CASA has considered that this exemption should also apply to Micro RPA outdoors; and CASA has also become aware of interest in operating more than 1 micro RPA and model aircraft at a time [This is generally illegal without an approval: CASR 101.300(5)],
In consideration of these astute observations, 22/21 further amends 55/20 to widen the scope of approvals to enable indoor and now outdoor operation of micro RPAs within 30 metres of a person who does not have duties essential to the control or navigation of the aircraft. 22/21 also provides for CASA to give approvals allowing a person to operate more than 1 micro RPA or model aircraft at a time.
Before these tweaks, CASA was legislatively prohibited from making such authorisations. This is due to how Subpart 101.F in the CASR is phrased.
Whether or not you think this is where CASA should be paying attention, these amendments are encouraging as they demonstrate that CASA has some ears to the ground – or more appropriately, the sky – and is making changes as it sees the industry develop.
However, the problem with the way it is being conducted – by way of these Instruments – creates a bit of a Grandma’s patchwork quilt of regulations. So as to prevent this state of affairs, CASA has again indicated that 55/20 is an interim measure and CASA intends to amend Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 to address the issues currently addressed by these Instruments. CASA intends to make these amendments to the Regulations by March 2022 and at that time, 55/20 will be repealed. Sorry Grandma, you’re out of a job.
Until then, stay tuned and Fly Free!
The Drone Lawyer
20 April 2021
Boring lawyer disclaimer: this is not legal advice. Also, any links in this article are current at the time of publishing but the law might have changed by the time you read this so please take that into account.