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Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201400093
Date reported 26 October 2014
Concern title Remotely piloted aircraft operating near Gold Coast and Sea World helipad
Concern summary

The concern related to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which has been operating near the Gold Coast airport and Sea World Helipad

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Other
Concern subject type Aviation: Other

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern regarding the operation of a UAV.

The reporter advised that a UAV is being operated regularly in the Gold Coast area within 3 NM of the Gold Coast Aerodrome and the SeaWorld Heliport, and over populous areas.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Flying a drone is a hobby of mine and to ensure the safety of others is maintained at all times, I abide by the rules for hobby drone enthusiasts as detailed in CASA's 'Important Safety Information' brochure.

It is my understanding that GPS mode was created to assist and guide hobby drone [model aircraft] flyers so the flyer is alerted when the drone enters no fly zones and the drone automatically flies back to safe airspace. For example, I live 500 meters from the Gold Coast Airport and the drone won't even start up while at home. So as a guide and safety measure, every flight I use GPS mode to ensure the drone is always in safe airspace.

The 'Important Safety Information' brochure reads 'You should not fly within 5.5km of an airfield', which I interpret as being a recommendation not a definite (but at a safe height - 0 to 120 meters depending on the distance from the airfield as per GPS mode on the drone). If this is not the case, then this rule may need to be reviewed as it is open to misinterpretation. If the rule was to read 'You must not fly within 5.5km of an airfield' (like all of the other rules on this brochure) then this rule would be easily understood by a hobby drone flyer.

All media (including beach shots) that you see on our social media pages are taken when the area is unpopulated. I always fly in locations that are unpopulated and always keep 30 meters distance from people, vehicles, boats and buildings to ensure the safety of others is maintained.

Flying my drone is a hobby of mine. I always act in good faith and the safety of others is something that I take very seriously while flying my drone. I am in the process of applying for my Remote Pilot Certificate so that I can further my knowledge and skills in flying drones.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

The reporter expressed safety concerns with the operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft/model aircraft in the Gold Coast area and within 3NM of the Gold Coast Airport (YBCG), the Sea World Heliport (HLS) and over populous areas.

In your email to CASA, you mentioned that you had a particular concern in the information provided by the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA) and that you had read regulation CASR 101.075 Operation near Aerodromes and that your reading of that allowed the operation of privately owned RPA to operate below 400 ft above ground level (AGL) within 3NM of an aerodrome under certain conditions. You made the assessment that the MAAA brochure is correct in its use of the words ‘should not’ in relation to flying within 3NM (5.5 km) of an aerodrome. You then asked if this was going to change with any new regulations and if so, will the pamphlet as given out by the MAAA be updated to reflect the new requirements.

You also accessed the link casa.gov.au/rpa which was provided in the pamphlet and noted that the wording is ‘should not’ in relation to operations within 3NM of an aerodrome. You then stated that there is no requirement for this in legislation and wondered if this was advisory only.

In response to the above, let me explain:

  • The yellow flyer as supplied by the MAAA is actually produced by CASA. The flyer is only advisory and was prepared to provide a short flyer for hobbyists of model aircraft (i.e. unmanned aircraft being used for sport and recreational purposes only) to gain a very basic understanding of the main regulations.

The use of the words ‘should not’ was used because the regulations actually stated in CASR 101.075 that the operator of an unmanned aircraft may operate within 3NM under certain conditions as you have identified. However, CASA is attempting to encourage the hobbyist unmanned aircraft operator not to operate within 3NM of an aerodrome.

The regulation does not say ‘must not’ or ‘cannot’ and so this is the reason for the choice of the words ‘should not’. The repcon reporter has correctly understood the meaning of the words used;

  • As mentioned, the flyer has not been produced by the MAAA but has their symbol on because that organisation is a Recreational Aviation Administrative Organisation (RAAO that operates under a Deed of Agreement between CASA and that organisation for which they conduct certain administrative functions on behalf of CASA and receive some funding for those functions). As the flyer was produced by CASA, the wording is correct in the intention of what CASA is attempting to convey to the hobbyist model aircraft operator;
  • There is currently a review of CASA Subpart 101 in relation to the operation of model aircraft (Subpart 101 G). A number of issues have been raised to make the regulations more relevant and to consider new technology that has been developed. The review has not reached the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) stage as yet. If there was to be any change to any of the subpart 101 A, B, C or G regulations after the review concludes and such changes affected the content of the flyer, then CASA will be rewriting the flyer with any updated information and the MAAA would be advised of any changes to those regulations;
  • It should be noted that there are three sub-divisions for unmanned aircraft (not including unmanned tethered balloons, rockets, tethered kites, fireworks etc). The main overriding type is an unmanned aircraft. This is split into Drones which are used for military purposes only, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and then model aircraft (which is where the hobbyists are). A model aircraft is only used for sport and recreational purposes for the individual operator. If the unmanned aircraft (whether that be a quadcopter, fixed wing radio controlled airplane, radio controlled helicopter or a myriad of other unmanned aircraft types) is used for other than a sport and recreational purpose, it is considered an RPA (this is then used for some kind of commercial or educational purpose but doesn’t have to be used to gain a financial benefit.

 

In CASA the RPA section oversight all RPAs and UAV Operator Certificate holders (UOC) (commercial activities) whereas the Self Administering Sport Aviation Organisations section (SASAO) oversights all model aircraft activities;

  • RPAs are operated under CASR Subparts 101 A, B, C and F, whereas model aircraft are operated under CASR Subparts 101 A, B, C and G;
  • Any reference to the term ‘should not’ on either the RPA or model aircraft pages of the CASA website is advisory. A person is directed to the actual Comlaw website from these pages for the actual regulations: Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998;
  • Regulation 101.075 refers to unmanned aircraft which includes RPA, model aircraft, tethered balloons and kites, unmanned rockets and unmanned free balloons. It does not only refer to RPAs;
  • The operator appears to not have accessed the actual regulations due to his/her references and comments but appears to have only accessed the yellow ‘Flying With Control? Get to know the rules’ brochure. If the operator had accessed the actual regulations, they would be aware of the actual wording of the regulations. As mentioned in an earlier dot point, this flyer is only advisory and is aimed at the hobbyist that has no interest in accessing the actual regulations but is a part of the overall CASA safety strategy to disseminate easily understood guidance material to the hobbyist model aircraft operator;
  • The reference to the GPS functionality used by current unmanned aircraft is not certified by CASA but is a feature available on certain unmanned aircraft. Therefore, the accuracy of the GPS feature cannot be confirmed by CASA. That said, a person is only to operate a model aircraft line of sight so there should be no reason for this functionality unless the operator is not operating their model aircraft in accordance with CASR 101.385 101.395 and 101.400. Generally, a First Person View (FPV) model aircraft is not operated in accordance with regulations in Australia because this type of model aircraft which is an unmanned aircraft with a camera attached and the operator is operating it whilst either looking through goggles or on a video screen and looking at the view from the attached camera as though the operator is actually onboard, is not permitted under the Australian regulations unless the operator has a CASA Approval to do so. A hobbyist is not provided with such an Approval to conduct such operations;
  • I have information that the GPS function does not always work as I am aware of persons that have unmanned aircraft with this functionality that are able to operate within 3NN of an aerodrome. My understanding is that this functionality is only set to work from major capital city airports but that no other aerodrome or HLS has been programmed into this functionality and so it only has limited uses in Australia;
  • The operator should be advised that the use of GPS mode is not supported by CASA in Australia and that it is the responsibility of the operator of the unmanned aircraft to ensure that they operate in accordance with the regulations in respect to CASR 101.070 and 101.075;
  • The CASA flyer cannot say an operator ‘must not’ fly within 3Nm (5.5 Km) because this is not supported by regulations as the operator has suggested;
  • The operator should be commended for operating in accordance with regulations such as keeping at least 30 metres away from persons and only operating over non-populated areas;
  • The comments that have been made by the operator have been echoed to CASA many times by persons that are undergoing the training and certification process to gain their RPA operators qualification or unmanned operators certificate (UOC). It is for the person to acquaint themselves of the regulations to ensure that they operate in accordance with such regulations as contained within CASR 101 and the relevant subparts that relate to their operations. It is not deemed by CASA that there is any requirement to alter any of the flyer or of any other guidance material as contained on the CASA website until there is a change to any of the regulations.

 

CASA does not consider that the information as supplied by the operator is a valid safety concern as it is based on the operator’s lack of understanding of the regulations and his/her use of the GPS mode which is not endorsed by CASA for hobbyist model aircraft operations in Australia.

The information provided has been viewed by the relevant CASA officer and further inquiries are being conducted to ascertain the owner of the unmanned aircraft that has been used to obtain the video footage as uploaded to the Internet.

ATSB comment

This report was forwarded to the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia for their information.

 
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Last update 15 May 2015