Safety topic from Episode 7

Remotely piloted aircraft

In Australia, the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) sector started as a wave upon the sand and is now growing into a tsunami. As quoted in CASA’s FSA magazine in 2015: “The number of commercial unmanned operator certificate holders in Australia has doubled over each of the last three years; now stands at over 120, and is likely to reach 200 by the end of the year. The recreational market is also expanding rapidly, with an estimated 100 new multi-rotor RPA taking to the skies each week in Australia.”

Since then, the increase in RPA activity has climbed off the charts. RPA are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. They come in all shapes and sizes, from those that are as big as a 737 to some that will fit in the palm of your hand. RPA can be used in fire fighting, search and rescue, disaster relief, border patrol, weather monitoring, hurricane tracking and law enforcement. 

Their recent popularity has seen them now being widely used in areas like aerial photography, stock mustering and as a sophisticated ‘toy’ that’s just plain fun to fly.

Users need to be aware that the rules and guidelines for the operation of recreational drones are quite separate from those involved in commercial aerial work. As outlined in CASA Regulations Part 101, when flying for money, or any form of economic gain, you need to have an RPA Operator’s Certificate (ReOC). If you’re flying an RPA weighing less than two kilograms, you need to notify CASA. 

Approvals for commercial or aerial work drone flights are mandatory requirements from CASA, so make sure you’ve ticked the boxes before you let yours out of your hands! 

Safety First

Being a new element in aviation, these flying machines need to be integrated safely with existing aircraft and conventions. This is CASA’s priority and to this end, regulations and guidelines have been laid out on their website for the safe and legal operation of RPA. 


These guidelines include:

  • How to become a safe RPA operator
    • Applying for an operator’s certificate
    • Guidance material for aspiring operators
  • Information on flying recreational drones, flying commercially <2kg, flying commercially >2kg
  • Flying over your own land
  • RPAs in emergency situations

For information relating to the requirements of an ReOC please see CASA’s website.

As licensed pilots of manned aircraft, we naturally have every reason to be cautious sharing our airspace with these relative newcomers to our skies, particularly since the operators of recreational RPAs are not required to hold a pilot’s licence. RPA and model aircraft operators have some different operating rules. CASA states that model aircraft operators “do not need formal piloting qualifications to operate a radio-controlled model. But they do need to observe some easy to follow rules, as detailed on the CASA website. 

CASA has also been driving a public awareness campaign since 2014, working with manufacturers and retailers, online electronics and toy and hobby outlets selling the smaller recreational RPA, to ensure the rules are either included in the product’s box, or given to buyers. The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the requirements for flying recreational drones safely.

There are no CASA issues with a camera being attached to a recreational drone. There may be privacy issues but these are beyond CASA’s jurisdiction. We do advise people to think about respecting privacy when flying their drone.

A note on training

RPA training organisations teach to an approved syllabus of training and are required to submit both instructor and student handbooks to CASA for acceptance. In addition the training organisation undertakes practical training based on guidance provided by CASA both within the syllabus and during entry control.