Whilst the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority has sought to widely promote its new drone rules as a boon for industry, devils reside in the detail and safety stands to be compromised. What wasn’t widely publicised by CASA are its ‘new’ Standard Operating Conditions, which all operators of drones (known in the industry as Remotely Piloted Aircraft) must abide by when the new regulations take effect at the end of September.
If a certified drone operator wants to operate in Controlled Airspace they must make an application to CASA providing details of how they propose to de-conflict with manned aircraft. As one would expect, applications cannot be approved without a comprehensive risk management system being utilized. Certified drone operators are also not permitted to operate in Controlled airspace without a qualified radio-operator monitoring the aviation radio for localized traffic and possible conflicts with manned aircraft in the congested airspace.
Come October however, under the amended regulations, untrained and uncertified drone operators will be permitted to operate up to 400ft high in Controlled Airspace, as long as it is more than 3nm from the towered aerodrome. In an odd twist, CASA is silent on how a drone operator is expected to know the difference between a towered aerodrome and a non-towered aerodrome, if they don’t require any training or qualifications beforehand.
Two study papers commissioned by CASA in 2013 were woefully short on real data but both papers were very clear about the potential consequences. A damning conclusion of the 1st study paper states: “The velocities in the loss-of-control scenario, in which the RPA descends from altitudes greater than 60m and reaching its terminal velocity, lie far above the determined acceptable values (typically above 30 m/s). At such high impact velocities practically any RPA mass is likely to cause unacceptably severe injuries.
There is a lot more to this article, I pulled out a few of the nuggets that have a very familiar quality.
First of all, I have always wondered why no radio requirement. Especially if the FAA is going to mandate a pilot’s license – one of the fundamental tools of pilotage is communications and for that you need a radio.
Next, how can one expect untrained people to make informed decisions?
Finally, and this is back to the ARC… the real danger is not in the sky it is to the people on the ground. What this says is that a drone falling from an altitude greater than 60m – which is less than 200′, will, according to the rules of gravity, fall at 9.8 meters per second squared.
Being a curious sort I Googled and found something called the “Splat Calculator” which was developed for rock climbers. Here is the telling quote: “…Falling from 50m high is the equivalent of getting hit by a car going 112 km/h, or 70 miles per hour.”