Commercial UAV use: Managing licensing and CASA regulations

Pegasus UAV

Businesses across a range of industries are augmenting many of their daily operating procedures with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs, drones or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

However, while they've proven useful in situations as diverse as chemical spraying on farms and taking photos for real estate brochures, businesses need to be careful about how they use these devices. As they are aerial vehicles, people don't have free rein to operate them as they see fit.

Failure to meet the comprehensive range of guidelines outlined by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) can result in a range of penalties that harm the benefits of operating UAVs in the first place.

This white paper will outline some of the common regulations businesses fall foul of, and how consulting a local supplier can greatly mitigate these challenges.

Which industries are making the most of UAVs?

UAV inspection tower

There are a range of broad uses for UAVs in Australia, with a number of industries using the devices regularly. The versatility of drones stems from the fact that there are a number of available attachments that can alter their functionality.

Many people are familiar with the attachment of high definition cameras, allowing UAVs to take unique photos or videos from a bird's eye view. However, there are further options, such as chemical sprayers and 3D scanners. Some of the common uses for UAVs throughout Australia also include:

  • Mining - Surveying open cut mines, measuring stock piles and scanning locations.
  • Utilities - Inspecting high voltage power lines in a safer manner.
  • Agriculture - Scanning crops and plants to create a health analysis or apply fertilisers.
  • Emergency services - Investigate crime scenes and other sites of interest.
  • Media - Filming for a range of purposes, from entertainment to marketing material.

Of course, the appeal of these devices lies in their versatility, which certainly isn't limited to the industries or applications described above.

What constitutes commercial UAV use?

The key area where many businesses get into trouble with UAVs concerns commercial use. It's important that people looking to invest in this technology are familiar with these guidelines, as they each rely on specific regulations.
While many people will fly model aircraft of many descriptions in their spare time, there are notable differences between these exercises and commercial UAV use.

If a UAV flight can be traced to commercial, government or research use, it can't be considered a model aircraft that is flown only for leisure. In essence, if flying a UAV - or RPA as CASA refers to them - is in any way related to business operations, it is being used commercially and will be regulated as such.

How do CASA guidelines regulate commercial use?

Commercial UAV use is subject to a range of regulations as determined by CASA, many of which may not be obvious to businesses new to flying these devices.

Due to potential dangers to other aircraft such as planes and helicopters, one of the most strict regulations relates to altitude. According to CASA, UAVs, in normal use, aren't able to fly any higher than 400 feet above ground level.

The type of area UAVs can be flown for commercial use is also regulated. One of the most important aspects for businesses to keep in mind is that UAVs cannot be flown over populated areas, an essential piece of advice for those in the media to consider.

This doesn't mean that real estate companies are prohibited from securing the high-quality images now essential to gain attention in this space. Businesses can make applications for exemption, however, it's wise to consult the experts in these cases to ensure they are are operating within the confines of the law.

Despite the fact that many UAVs provide live streaming from the attached cameras, pilots must keep UAVs in their line of sight at all times. Along with being limited to flights in daylight hours, this makes for a safer flying environment for both the device and people in the area.

Airports are also designated as no-fly zones as expected, but so are the areas surrounding these centres. Pilots are not allowed to fly UAVs within 5.5 kilometres of these facilities to ensure absolute safety.

What other regulations affect commercial UAV use?

Because UAVs can be fitted with a range of attachments, businesses often have to manage more than just the CASA guidelines when preparing flights.

For example, for a UAV that's equipped with a sprayer, the business in charge of the flight will have to meet CASA regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency laws for the included chemicals.

There are also regulations from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that affect the video or telemetry transmitters added to a UAV. In particular, these have to operate within certain frequencies and power ratings as determined by the ACMA.

Flights that don't abide by these ACMA guidelines risk infringing on other potentially more important equipment, which could create significant safety hazards or affect other operators.

Why should businesses consult local experts?

There are many reasons for businesses to work with local suppliers such as Redstack when integrating UAVs into their workflow.

One of the main benefits is the years of experience businesses receive through working with an established entity. While UAVs may be new for some companies, various specialists have been working with the technology for years, making them a valuable resource when preparing for highly technical flights.

Not only is this knowledge valuable when preparing an operation in line with the CASA regulations, providers are also aware of how to prepare a device for certain equipment. This means that instead of a business having to work out how to mount a chemical sprayer to a UAV, and whether the respective device can handle it, it can get a quick and easy answer.

Safety is equally important to UAV operations, and local providers can complete the necessary risk analysis procedures, offer training for staff and manage applications to exemptions for CASA's guidelines. 

Redstack offers the hardware, software and training solutions for businesses that want to start using UAVs. Contact the team to find out how our years of expertise can make this process easier and more effective or purchase your UAV today from the Redstack eStore.


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