Australia Proposes to Allow Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems to Fly Without an Operator’s or Remote Pilot Certificate Under Certain Conditions

By William Rauch posted 25-06-2014 13:46


Australia Proposes to Allow Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems to Fly Without an Operator’s or Remote Pilot Certificate Under Certain Conditions

Comment Period Extended Until June 30, 2014


The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia is the equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States (U.S.) and is responsible for regulating the civil use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).  Australia was the first country to regulate remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), publishing regulations covering the operation of unmanned aircraft in Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations in 2002.  At the time of drafting these regulations, there was virtually no operational experience with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).  Thus, the regulations relied heavily on the rules governing the model aircraft industry and terminology.

The rules governing all unmanned aeronautical activities in Australia are found in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 101.  Guidance material is also available in the form of advisory circulars.  These cover the use of unmanned tethered balloons and kites, unmanned free balloons, unmanned rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), model aircraft, and pyrotechnic displays.

Advisory Circulars (ACs)

Number Subject Date
AC 101-1(0) Unmanned aircraft and rockets - unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations, design specification, maintenance and training of human resources July 2002)
AC 101-2(0) Unmanned aircraft and rockets - rockets (July 2002)
AC 101-3(0) Unmanned aircraft and rockets - model aircraft (July 2002)


Current Regulations Per CASA Part 101.F

CASA Part 101.F relates to unmanned aircraft used for commercial operations and excludes model aircraft used for recreational purposes.  The current regulations divide UAVs into three categories: Micro, Small and Large based on weight.  Micro UAVs have a gross weight < 100 grams, no airworthiness requirements and operational requirements
are undefined.  Large UAVs by definition means any of the following.  An unmanned:
a. Airship with an envelope capacity greater than 100 cubic meters;
b. Powered parachute with a launch mass greater than 150 kg;
c. Aeroplane with a launch mass > 150 kg;
d. Rotocraft with a launch mass > 100 kg; and
e. Powered lift device with a launch mass greater than 100 kg.    
A small UAV means a UAV that is not a large UAV nor a micro UAV.  UAV means unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite.
According to Part 7 of CASR Advisory Circular AC 101-1(0) dated July, 2002, a small UAV may be operated without restriction at or below 400 feet above ground level (AGL) provided it remains clear of designated airspace, aerodromes and populous areas.  The operator is responsible for ensuring that the UAV is operated safely and remains clear of potential low level traffic, structures, power lines and other obstacles unless close proximity is authorized on the operator’s operating certificate.

A small UAV may be operated above 400 feet AGL provided it is in accordance with conditions imposed by CASA.  Such conditions may specify:

a. Maximum Altitude;
b. Communication Requirements;
c. Operating Times;
d. Operating Area Limitations;
e. UAV Equipment; and
f. Other Conditions Prescribed by CASA

A large UAV may only be operated if it has been issued a Certificate of Registration and either an Experimental certificate or a certificate of airworthiness in the Restricted category.  In general, a person must not operate a UAV within 30 meters of a person who is not directly associated with the operation of the UAV.  It must also be operated in accordance with an approval issued by CASA.  Table 1 summarizes the current UAV category characteristics, airworthiness and operational requirements in Australia.

  Table 1.  Australia's UAV Categories
  Category Characteristics Airworthiness Requirements Operational Requirements
Micro UAV Gross Weight <= 100 grams None Not Specified in CASR Subpart 101.F
Small UAV A UAV that is not a large UAV nor a micro UAV, Gross Weight > 100 grams or Launch Mass <= 150 kg (Aeroplanes) and LM < 100 kg (Rotocraft) None, if UAV stays clear of populous areas; Otherwise follows large UAV process
None for operations <= 400 feet above ground level (AGL) over unpopulated areas

   For operations > 400 feet AGL, requirements include: maximum altitudes, communication requirements, operating times, operating area limitations, and UAV equipment.
Large UAV Launch Mass (LM) > 150 kg (Aeroplanes), LM > 100 kg (Rotocraft);  There are other specifications for airships, powered parachutes and lift devices Requires an experimental or restricted airworthiness certificate; Approval similar to requirements under manned standards. Operating approval by CASA


Details of Standard RPA Operating Conditions

A key part of this proposed amendment acknowledges the existence of a "low risk" class of RPA operations, which are determined as small RPA with a gross weight of 2 kilograms and below while they are being operated under the standard RPA operating conditions.  The standard operating conditions for flying include:
1) Less than or equal to 400 feet above ground level (AGL);
2) Daylight only;
3) Outside controlled airspace;
4) More than 30 meters from people;
5) Greater than 5km from an aerodrome; and
6) Within visual line of sight.
CASA is proposing that unmanned aerial systems weighing less than or equal to 2 kilograms flying under these conditions may be flown without an unmanned aircraft system operator’s certificate or remote pilot certificate.  Remotely piloted aircraft weighing more than two kilograms and all operations outside the standard conditions would still require approvals from CASA.

Current Weight Categorization Not Risk-Based

The current weight categories were originally based on weights pertaining to model aircraft and are not risk-based.  Further, CASA’s role as an aviation safety regulator does not allow it to be influenced by economic or commercial implications but only by safety considerations.  With this in mind, CASA has undertaken a risk-based approach to investigate the safety of RPA’s weighing less than or equal to 2 kg.     

A Risk-Based Approach

The current proposal seeks to adopt a risk-based approach using kinetic energy and the potential for harm by the RPA.  The rationale is that these systems pose little risk to aviation, have a low kinetic energy and therefore pose little risk of harm to people and property (including airspace users and property on the ground).  The proposed recommendations come after CASA conducted an investigation of the risks and potential harm to people, property and other airspace users by RPA systems meeting these requirements.  A human injury predication model provided estimates of injury severity as a function of the RPA’s mass and impact velocity.  The model for the impact of small RPA into a person on the ground found that these small remotely piloted aircraft have a very low kinetic energy and thus pose a low risk to people, property and airspace users.  A direct hit into the sternum (chest), an unlikely event, found the probability of death for this type of injury to be less than 10 percent.  Mitigation measures could further reduce this probability.    See “Human injury model for small unmanned aircraft impacts” at for a copy of this study, conclusions and recommendations. 

Potential Damage Assessment of a Mid-Air Collision with a Small RPA

This paper analyses the damage potential to manned aircraft from a mid-air collision with a small unmanned aircraft.  The scenarios of engine ingestion and impacts into fuselage and cockpit windscreen are considered.  The aim of the study is to provide velocity estimates, above which penetration of the aircraft structure can be expected.  The consequences of the penetration will depend on the impact location, and were not explored in this investigation.  See “Potential damage assessment of a mid-air collision with a small UAV” at for a copy of this study and conclusions.

Additional Research

A blog on additional risk-based research for the classification of unmanned aerial systems will follow at a later date.

Other Proposed Changes

In the notice of proposed rulemaking a number of other changes are proposed relating to remote pilot training and certification, maintenance and approvals.  CASA has also developed three proposed advisory documents covering general issues, training and certification and operations.  These changes will:
• Update the current terminology used within CASR Part 101 to bring it in line with the latest terminology used by ICAO as found in Annex 2 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation - Rules of the Air;
• Clarify the current requirements for remote pilot training and certification;
• Remove redundant requirements and simplify the process for approval; and
• RPA of gross weight of 2 kilograms and below, operating under standard RPA operating conditions (outlined in the NPRM) will not require CASA approval to operate.

Opposition to the Proposed Amendment

The Australian Certified UAV Operators Association (ACUO) is opposing much of the rulemaking, including “not acceptable under any circumstances” key proposal number 4 (RPA of gross weight 2 kg or below).  However, the general consensus in Australia is that ACUO may be opposing the rulemaking as a protectionist strategy.  That is, they do not want the rule change because that would mean that people with less expensive systems would pay a lot less to be in the business than current operators.  Some individual ACUO members may not be as opposed as stated.

Comment Period Open Until June 30, 2014

CASA has issued a “Notice of Proposed Rule Making” to Part 101 of their regulations (NPRM 13090S – Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) seeking comments by June 30, 2014.  If you would like to comment, go to and complete the proper forms.  The CASA website states that the comment period is closed but comments may be sent directly to James Coyne, Project Leader, CASA at until June 30, 2014.

Sources - CASA Website



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