The increasing prevalence of drone technology has resulted in a greater focus on how this technology ought to be regulated.  We’ve set out below a summary of what is currently happening in Australia and around the world. 

Drone Recap

Drone use in Australia is regulated under the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASA Regulations). These Regulations are enforced by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and regulate the licensing and operation of drone use.  While the CASA Regulations regulate matters such as minimum distances from people and places, prohibited flight areas and time of day licensing, CASA does not have jurisdiction over noise issues (managing complaints about drone noise is currently the remit of Air Services).

Earlier this year, we wrote about Wing Aviation’s commercial drone delivery service following a trial undertaken in Canberra. The Canberra trial was met by complaints from local residents, largely concerned with the noise generated by the drones. These complaints led to inquiry by the ACT Government (the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism) (the ACT Inquiry) whose recommendations included:

  • the Australian Information Privacy Commissioner work with the ACT Government in considering placing restrictions on commercial delivery drones on the collection of the personal information of non-users in order to address privacy concerns; and
  • the ACT Government proactively engage with the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (the Department), in the Department’s review of drone noise regulation, drawing on the experience of the ACT community in drone delivery trials.

Changes in Drone Regulation

Following the concerns of Canberra residents and the ACT Inquiry, the Department has:

  • re-examined the applicability of the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018 (the Air Navigation Regulations) and concluded that a range of commercial and recreational drone operations within Australia require approvals under the Air Navigation Regulations (until recently the Department was of the view that the Air Navigation Regulations did not apply to drone operations).   Approval can be denied if the aircraft in question has had, and is likely to continue to have, a significant noise impact on the public; and
  • initiated a review of aircraft noise: Review of the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018 – Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The review intends to consider the continued appropriate scope and breadth of drone noise regulation. The review will address a range of noise-related issues, including jurisdictional issues, the relevance of the existing Air Navigation Regulations and the role of Air Services, community acceptance, and state, territory and local government noise standards. Submissions for the Review closed on 22 November 2019.

In addition, the Civil Aviation Safety Amendment (Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Model Aircraft—Registration and Accreditation) Regulations 2019 introduced amendments to the CASA Regulations. The amendments, which are expected to fully come into force by mid-2020, introduce greater restrictions on drone use, including on licensing. The amendments impose the following restrictions:

  • people flying drones over 250 grams (or a drone of any weight for commercial purposes) must hold a remote pilot licence (RePL) (as before) and complete an online safety quiz to achieve accreditation. Accreditation must be renewed every 3 years;
  • all recreational drones over 250 grams and all commercial drones regardless of weight must be registered with CASA. Registration must be renewed every year;
  • a minimum age of 18 years for drone ownership (Individuals over 16 years can operate drones if supervised by a licensed drone operator over the age of 18); and
  • compliance with the new manual of standards incorporating regulatory guidelines on drone use.

Operating a drone without the required accreditation or an RePL will attract fines of up to $10,500.  Fines of up to $10,500 will also be applicable for a failure to comply with the requirement to register a drone.

Update on regulatory changes in other jurisdictions

The experiences in Australia parallel regulatory reforms occurring in other jurisdictions. Countries around the world are considering how best to regulate drones, given the rapidly evolving technology as well as the potential benefits it may bring. 

  • In the United Kingdom, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons recently released a report entitled “Commercial and Recreational Drone Use in the UK”, calling for greater drone regulations, including registration, drone ID transmission and geofencing around sensitive locations.
  • The European Commission has adopted EU rules to apply to both professional operators and recreational users in EU member states, which replace member states’ national laws. As of 2020, drone operators will be required to register with national authorities. The common European rules on drones, published in June this year – Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 – are designed to replace the currently fragmented regulatory framework with coherent guidelines. Stakeholders will discuss the new rules and regulatory proposal at the High Level Conference on Drones taking place at Amsterdam Drone Week on 5-6 December. 
  • In Taiwan, the Unmanned Vehicles Technology Innovation Experimentation Act entered into force on 1 June 2019, and a new regulation for drone use under the latest amendment to the Civil Aviation Act will take effect on 31 March 2020. Under the new act, drone operators in Taiwan will need to register with and pass an exam conducted by the Civil Aeronautics Administration to obtain a licence to operate drones.
  • The South Korean government also recently unveiled a roadmap for regulatory reform to enable growth of the drone industry. The South Korean government has projected that drone operations will be fully autonomous by 2025, and that drones will be able to carry passengers and fly in heavily populated areas by this date. The government intends to develop a drone traffic control system and designate drone space that is different from that which currently applies for aircraft.
  • In Canada, Drone Delivery Canada Corporation recently announced that it entered into a commercial agreement with the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority, to establish the world's first airport drone delivery hub at Edmonton International Airport.

These kinds of regulatory reforms reflect an acceptance that commercial drone delivery will be with us in the near future, and the need to ensure appropriate controls are in place as this technology develops. While noise concerns have taken primacy in the Australian context, other concerns such as privacy still remain largely unaddressed. The regulatory contexts both locally and internationally are set to change in coming years and will be an interesting space to watch.

Authors: Andrew Hii, Jen Bradley, Catherine Gamble

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