Drones to the rescue

The seemingly limitless opportunities for drone technology were highlighted recently with the rescue of two swimmers in NSW, and the spectacular opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics, which featured 1218 ‘shooting star’ drones, a display that has entered the Guinness Book of Records.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or more generically as ‘drones’ are a rapidly developing capability. They are expected to play a significant role in the global Aviation industry over the coming years.

When two swimmers got into trouble recently in heavy surf at Lennox Head, a drone was used to drop a flotation device to assist them back to safety. The drone was one of two Little Ripper Rescue UAVs and 15 other drones operating on the Far North Coast, with daily flights on beaches between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay helping to keep swimmers safe.

Surf Life Saving NSW, in partnership with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, began the program this year with a small fleet of RPAS capable of shark spotting and rescues. Chief Executive Steven Pearce said the drones were the next stage in the evolution of lifesaving technology and a viable way to keep the beaches safe. “It was just a natural thing to look at drones and see how they could assist surf lifesavers in both patrolled and unpatrolled locations where we can have some greater visibility.”

Another two rescue drones are being used at beaches along Sydney’s northern beaches. The Little Ripper UAV is sponsored by Westpac, complementing the bank’s sponsorship of the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Services.

The aim is to eventually roll out the program across the rest of the state. More than 100 lifesavers will be trained to fly both the smaller shark spotting UAV and the Little Ripper Rescue UAV.

Mr Pearce said that he hoped the drones could be used alongside other emergency services. “There’s such a great use for these drones in other emergency environments, particularly flood rescues.”


A Little Ripper Rescue UAVs with its flotation device, called a rescue pod. Photo: AP

The Winter Olympics opening ceremony is always a big show, and this year was no exception. The 1,218 Shooting Star drones flying in sync created huge light-up images of Olympic sports and the iconic Olympic rings in the skies over Pyeongchang in South Korea. The spectacular light show was pre-recorded, although a smaller group of 300 drones did make a live appearance at the ceremony.

These two examples are indicative of the current and exciting potential uses for drones. Investments are pouring into this rapidly evolving technology every day.

The 2018 Aviation IRC Key Findings Discussion Paper identified some of the current and emerging uses for RPAS. There are enormous opportunities across a range of other industries, including in mining, surveying, scientific research, and emergency services.

The Water IRC Key Findings Discussion Paper noted that use of drones and remote surveying devices is already making a significant impact in the Water industry by changing the way waterways and water assets are monitored and managed. In the Gas industry, drones are being used to detect fugitive gas emissions and identify pipeline inefficiencies remotely, whilst the expansion of RPAS into commercial real estate marketing has been extensive.

Public safety organisations are also recognising the importance of RPAS technology in their operations, from defence, policing, firefighting to search and rescue, and emergency services. This will significantly increase the demand for specialised training and acquisition of qualifications such as the CASA Remote Pilot Licence (RePL), and the associated skills to operate drones safely and effectively in a wide range of controlled and uncontrolled airspace environments.

AVI Aviation Training Package Project.

The Aviation IRC has identified the need to enhance the vocational skills required to safely operate and control RPAS within a broader range of operating environments.

This project will update the AVI30316 Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight), to develop skills to use RPAS across aviation and other industries, such as emergency services, agriculture, mining, and other transport and logistics.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact Industry Manager, Dan Minton via email: