A Rolling Drone Still Gathers MOS: Australian Part 101 Drone Manual of Standards gets brush-up in preparation for further wave of Regs soon to hit the shore
Published: 25 February 2020
The Part 101 (Unmanned Aircraft and Rockets) Manual of Standards 2019, which we will refer to as the MOS, prescribes matters in relation to the safety of drones. These are broken up into discrete topics which are set out in 11 chapters, noting that some of the chapters are simply ‘Reserved’ i.e. watch this space.
The MOS originally commenced on 9 April 2019 and most of its provisions took effect on that date. However, to allow industry time to get compliant, various other provisions in relation to training courses and certain operations were delayed to take effect on 10 April 2020, and 10 October 2020 in relation to requirements for RePL training course instructors.
On 20 December 2019, some tweaks (44 amendments to be precise) to the MOS were introduced, which can be accessed here.
These amendments were incorporated into the MOS and published on the Legislation Register for the first time on 5 February 2020. The full MOS with these changes incorporated into it can be accessed here.
More on the amendments
We note that in the latest round of amendments, changes were made to every chapter (except the ‘Reserved‘ chapters). However, the significance of the changes to each chapter varies.
See below the number of changes made to each chapter in the last round of tweaks to give you a feel for how much each chapter was changed. We stress that the number of changes isn’t necessarily indicative of how big the changes were, one significant change to one chapter can have more impact than 100 small changes to another chapter. Nonetheless, here are the number of changes to each chapter to give you a feel for the changes:
Chapter 1: Preliminary – 2 amendments;
Chapter 2: RePL Training Course – 16 amendments;
Chapter 3: Reserved
Chapter 4:Operations in Controlled Airspace – Controlled Aerodromes – 2 amendments;
Chapter 5: RPA Operations Beyond VLOS – 5 amendments;
Chapter 6: Reserved
Chapter 7: Reserved
Chapter 8: Reserved
Chapter 9: Operations of RPA in Prescribed Areas – 2 amendments;
Chapter 10: Record Keeping for Certain RPA – 4 amendments;
Chapter 11: Notification of Change to Operated Excluded RPA – 1 amendment.
Also, there were 12 amendments to the Schedules to the MOS.
What are these changes?
These tweaks are described in the Explanatory Statement as a “small set of amendments designed to improve, simplify and correct the principal MOS in anticipation of 10 April 2020” and that “[m]uch of the principal MOS has been in operation for the necessity for some small corrections and revisions of it has come to light in anticipation of its broader taking of effect on 10 April 2020.” The tweaks are “regarded as being of a minor or machinery nature only” and so minor that the usual step of public consultation on changes was considered “not appropriate.”
One notable change is that the Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) pass mark has increased from 75% to 85%.
Another change allows a person to fly a drone that has a gross weight of no more than 250 grams in the no-fly zone of a controlled aerodrome if the aircraft does not enter an approach and departure path of a controlled aerodrome.
FYI: the no-fly zone of a controlled aerodrome means any areas and airspace that are below 400 ft and:
(a) within 3 NM of the movement area of a controlled aerodrome; or
(b) within the approach and departure paths referred to in section 4.05, whether or not they extend beyond 3 NM of the movement area of the controlled aerodrome.
As to how the changes are shown in the MOS, the amendment document tells you what the changes are e.g. replace X with Y. The MOS itself then incorporates these changes. However, neither CASA nor the Government typically provide a marked-up version to show the changes. If you would like a marked-up version so you can identify the changes yourself, we are able to provide this for a fee.
Why should I care?
The MOS is a “legislative instrument”; but not a cool instrument like a guitar, rather a set of standards that you must follow like the law. For example, the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR) empower CASA to issue a MOS for Part 101 of the CASR, and this is precisely what has happened. (If the MOS was a musical instrument, it would probably be the French Horn – clunky, cumbersome, requiring correct breathing technique and finger placement and if you play it wrong, it’s loud and embarrassing – yet a thing of beauty once you master it.)
Given that there were changes to every chapter, if your drone operation touches on any of the chapters, then you should get across those changes to ensure you remain compliant.
For training organisations, this is like going from the Wild West where every town had its own marshal (training org) who ran the town and its people (the students) yet still accountable to the sheriff (CASA); to a fiefdom where each vassal (training org) follows stricter rules (curriculum) in order to stay out of the bad books of its feudal lord (CASA).
While that many sound a little dramatic, another way to put it is to adapt a phrase from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ “All RePL’s are equal, but some RePL’s are more equal.” By this, we mean that prior to the MOS changes, the variance in RePL courses was significant: from a 2-day ‘memorise, hit the skies, say good-byes’ to a 5-day intensive that arm you up almost feeling like an airline pilot. The new MOS requirements move all training organisations into the second category which leads to greater consistency and less Orwell-esque territory.
While the hurdles are higher, there are likely to be commensurate opportunities.
Head of Data Acquisition & Analytics and Chief Remote Pilot of SUAS ROV, Joseph McMahon, speaks of the opportunities arising from the more rigorous training requirements arising out of the MOS: “For higher and vocational education providers such as universities and TAFE the previous regime failed to meet their exacting standards. Now, however, there is an opportunity for future focused, enlightened and committed, CASA Certified Training Organisations to seek to offer service to the big end of town institutions. As the only organisation in Australia that has satisfied both the CASA requirements to provide training in a University setting, SUAS ROV has a dispensation from theory training headcount restrictions in University settings (typically 10 students to 1 instructor for the theoretical component). The technology investment and effort required to develop specific systems and procedures to underpin these activities has been significant, however, the potential upside may also be significant. With Universities attracting significant investment for Remotely Piloted Aircraft research programs from defence and industry, the demand from grant providers, students and research academics for quality Remote Pilot Training programs seems set to increase significantly.”
While the MOS has raised the training bar, Mr McMahon’s view is that, “The knock on benefits of a step change in the quality of Remote Pilot training for members of the public can only be a good thing and should help ensure that the increasingly crowded skies are populated by well trained operators.”
For those looking to get their RePL after the Part 101 MOS kicks-in, expect more consistency between course providers.
While neither the Wild West nor the fiefdom were perfect, the stricter training rules in the MOS do give a more robust learning outcome, arguably leading to safer skies, and as a result, a better kingdom (or frontier) for all. Giddy up!
The Drone Lawyer
25 February 2020