The Australian Government’s response to the Senate Inquiry into the future of drone regulation: why it reads like the Wizard of Oz…
Published: 29 November 2018
The Australian Government’s response to the Senate Inquiry (Inquiry) into the future of drone regulation is so dry, garment makers are using it as a replacement of Silica Gel packets when selling new bags and shoes. On second thought that’s a bit mean. In reality, it’s a cogent and concise piece of writing explaining the Government’s pollice verso of the Senate Inquiry’s recommendations.
The actual Government response can be found here, the following is my executive summary and commentary.
Inquiry recommendation 1: sub-2kg ‘excluded category’ to be wiped
The Inquiry recommended the removal of the current ability of drone pilots to fly drones that weigh less than 2kg’s for commercial purposes without any sort of drone licence.
“Noted”. That is, the Government will review its position on these matters as drone technology advances. (Code for “someday, but not today”).
The Government does not consider that the current international research supports the need for an immediate redraft of the regulations for drones below 2kg. The Government considers the current framework as sufficient, but will “continue to follow international developments” in drone regulatory frameworks and will amend the regulations if appropriate.
Inquiry recommendation 2: if it weighs more than a packet of Scotch Fingers – register it!
This recommendation is for a mandatory registration regime for all drones weighing more than 250 grams.
Agree! The Government states that it has identified measures by which this recommendation can be put into action.
“The Government supports the implementation of an appropriate mandatory testing regime as part of the registration process, under which recreational and other drone users in the excluded category must successfully demonstrate an understanding of the safe and lawful use of RPAS.”
The Government notes that CASA has begun to develop options for a registration scheme.
Inquiry recommendation 3: unlock the levels like a video game
This recommendation is that the Australian Government develop a tiered education program whereby drone pilots progressively unlock drone capabilities upon completion of each level of training.
“Noted”. That is, the Government will review its position on these matters as drone technology advances. (Code for “to the bottom drawer”).
The Government supports a broader education scheme and mandatory registration which will be implemented by CASA. Also, CASA is developing an appropriate education package for the safe use of drones across the usage tiers.
The Government notes that the full implementation of this recommendation would require technological capabilities to be implemented by all drone manufacturers; currently not feasible given the many sources from which drones can be acquired.
Inquiry recommendation 4: no flying over “important” places
The recommendation is that CASA, the Australian Federal Police and other relevant authorities prohibit the use of drones in the airspace above significant public buildings, critical infrastructure and other vulnerable areas.
Agrees “in principle”. That is, the Australian Government “will progress work relating to these recommendations as identified.” (Code for “under the rug”).
The Government states that mechanisms are already in place to allow CASA to designate certain airspace as prohibited, restricted or danger areas.
Inquiry recommendation 5: kumbaya sessions between government and manufacturers
This recommendation is that the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (DIRDC) and CASA have a fireside chat with drone manufacturers to develop future solutions to drone safety, including the implementation of technical restrictions on altitude and distance for ‘off-the-shelf’ RPAS.
“Noted”. That is, the Government will review its position on these matters as drone technology advances. (Code for “Yeah, but no.”)
The Government notes that CASA will continue to support manufacturer’s efforts to utilise geo-fencing technology to prevent drone operations in areas where operations are not permitted, including at or near major airports and certain classes of restricted airspace. However, due to the multitude of drone manufacturers, predominantly based overseas, achieving consistent technical restrictions is unlikely to be feasible.
Inquiry recommendation 6: you must be worthy of air!
The Inquiry recommends that the DIRDC and CASA develop appropriate airworthiness standards for drones of all sizes and operations. At a minimum, fail-safe functions such as ‘return to home’ and safe landing functionality, and forced flight termination.
Agrees “in principle”. That is, the Australian Government “will progress work relating to these recommendations as identified.” (I think that’s the definition of ‘vague’).
The Government states that CASA is currently developing a long-term strategy for safe drone operations in Australia, including the examination of airspace integration, risk and safety management, unmanned traffic management, operations near and to/from aerodromes and initial and continuing airworthiness and certification standards.
The Government notes that adopting appropriate airworthiness standards is a long-term matter to allow for appropriate consideration for integration into Australian airspace.
Inquiry recommendation 7: Border patrol!
The Inquiry recommends that the Australian Government develop import controls to enforce airworthiness standards for foreign manufactured drones.
Does not agree!
The Government states that an import control to enforce airworthiness standards for foreign manufactured drones would be difficult to establish and impractical to enforce.
Instead, the Government proposes to skin this banana by supporting CASA’s participation in the international Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems, to develop appropriate international airworthiness standards for all drones.
Inquiry recommendation 8: whole of government approach
The Inquiry recommends that the DIRDC collaborate with CASA, to develop a “whole of government policy” for drone safety and establish appropriate coordination and implementation mechanisms with relevant departments and agencies to implement the policy.
Agrees “in principle”. That is, the Australian Government “will progress work relating to these recommendations as identified.” (Code for “we will get around to it”).
While the Government’s “in principle” response sounds a bit ‘iffy’, the Government nonetheless reports that that in March 2018, DIRDC established the ‘RPAS Network’ to coordinate policy work on drones.
The Government states that DIRDC will continue to work closely with CASA and other relevant departments and agencies on a coordinated whole of government approach to ensure the appropriate operation of drones in Australia.
In respect of the privacy issue, the Government points out that State and Territory privacy laws are a matter for State and Territory Governments. Nonetheless, the Government plans to engage with State and Territory governments to consider national harmonisation of privacy laws as they apply to drone operators. (Code for “token privacy box: tick!”)
Recommendation 9: centralise research and data
As part of the ‘whole of government’ approach to drone safety, the Inquiry recommends that CASA work with Airservices Australia and other relevant agencies to implement a comprehensive research and data gathering regime.
Agrees “in principle”. That is, the Australian Government “will progress work relating to these recommendations as identified.”
The Government points out that Airservices already collaborates with industry to collect data of sightings of authorised and unauthorised drones. This information is shared with CASA and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) enabling analysis of the evolving operations of drones.
The Government reports that Airservices is in discussions with several providers of drone detection solutions. The aim is to provide real-time statistical activity information in and around airports, supplementing Airservices current reporting capabilities.
Moreover, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) currently compiles statistics on manned aviation undertaken in Australian registered aircraft. BITRE plans to now undertake a similar arrangement to compile statistics for drones. However, the precursor for this to happen is a complete list of all drone owners or operators in order to identify participants in any future survey, which brings us back around to Recommendation 2 – drone registration.
Recommendation 10: “Pass out more batons!” Delegation of enforcement powers
In its final recommendation, the Inquiry suggests that CASA work with State and Territory enforcement bodies to implement a nationally consistent enforcement regime for drones. Enforcement bodies would be delegated powers to provide on-the-spot fines and report infringements of the regulations directly to CASA.
Agree! The Government states that is has identified measures by which this recommendation can be put into action.
“CASA continues to engage regularly and constructively with federal, state and territory law enforcement authorities, with a view to enhancing the enforcement of rules governing the safe and lawful use of drones.”
…and all this means what? And how is this like the Wizard of Oz?
Dorothy, the tin man, the lion and the scarecrow (Senate Inquiry) travel down the yellow brick road (21 months, 94 submissions and 6 public hearings) to get to the Emerald City (138-page report) to ask the Wizard of Oz (Australian Government) to grant them what they are apparently missing (the Inquiry’s 10 recommendations).
After a long adventure, the Wizard of Oz shows them that the attributes they sought were already within them (most of the Inquiry recommendations are already being developed or implemented).
In closing, it does not seem that any regulatory guillotine is likely to drop and cut off anyone’s career heads, rather the regulations will evolve with the growth of drone use and associated technology (albeit a few cogs behind). The outcome seems largely to be smoke and projections, kind of like the great and powerful Oz.
However, you never know when a hurricane may come and take your house. So watch this space as I’ll be watching the law-makers.
The Drone Lawyer
29 November 2018