Drone test flights: registration dispensation.
Published: 13 February 2022
In October 2021, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) released CASA 63/21 — Aircraft Not Requiring Registration (Classes of RPA and Model Aircraft) Prescription Instrument 2021, available here, which we will call “the Instrument“.
The purpose of the Instrument is to allow certain Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and model aircraft (collectively referred to as “drones” in this article) to be exempt from registration when operated as a test flight.
As at the date of this article, all RPA must be registered; which is free if the RPA weighs 500 grams or less, otherwise you’re slugged with a $40 registration levy per drone. Model aircraft do not need to be registered yet but model aircraft weighing more than 250 grams will be required to be registered sometime in 2022.
The state of play before the Instrument was that drone manufacturers, repair and maintenance organisations needed to register drones as RPA, before conducting a test flight.
So what about now?
The Instrument aims to make test flights exempt from the registration requirement.
Which drones does the Instrument apply to?
The Instrument applies to all RPA and model aircraft except large RPA, and model aircraft weighing less than 250 grams, model aircraft operated indoors, and model aircraft operated in an approved area e.g. approved model aircraft field.
Under what circumstances does the exemption apply?
A drone does not need to be registered if conducting any of the three operations:
- A test flight following the manufacture of the drone that is conducted by, or at the request of, the manufacturer of the drone; and before it is provided to the initial purchaser of the drone.
- A test flight following the fitting of equipment to the drone that is conducted by, or at the request of, the person who fitted the equipment.
- A test flight before or after maintenance or repair of the drone or its equipment that is conducted by, or at the request of, the person who carried out, or will carry out, the maintenance or repair.
CASA gives an example of allowing a test flight to be carried out before maintenance or repair to figure out if the drone is failing to perform as described by the customer.
What is defined as a “test flight” exactly?
A “test flight” is defined as a flight of the aircraft solely to test the aircraft or its equipment to determine if the aircraft or equipment is in working order and in a condition for safe operation.
CASA gives an example of a flight to test cameras or sensors installed on a drone.
Do these flights still need to be recorded?
The test flight operator must prepare a written record of the test flight, called (the record) that includes the following:
(a) the serial number of the drone;
(b) the name, address, and ARN (if any) of the owner of the drone;
(c) the time and date of the test flight;
(d) the location of the test flight;
(e) the reason for the test flight;
(f) any accident, incident or malfunction that occurred during the test flight;
(g) the name of the relevant operator.
The operator must prepare the record as soon as possible after the test flight is completed and sign and date the record; and the operator or their employer must keep the record for 3 years from the date of the test flight.
Consequences of new regulations are often only identified once implemented. It is encouraging to see CASA identifying this overly-burdensome technicality and putting together a work-around.
The Drone Lawyer
13 February 2022
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PS Brief personal note: if you’ve read our articles before, it’s been a little while since we have put something up, it’s great to be back, we love doing this, and hope you took some value from this article, look forward to providing more regulatory unpacking in the future to help guide the industry. Cheers.