When many people imagine drones, a vision of a child’s toy often springs to mind. While using remote piloted aircraft (RPAs) – most commonly known as drones – has become a popular pastime over the last decade, this technology has also experienced a surge in prevalence within the commercial space. RPAs are already utilised in agriculture for surveying large blocks of land and tracking cattle movements, and the Victorian Government recently announced that RPAs will now be used to monitor bushfires and wildlife for the first time in Australia1. RPA technology is now big business, with estimates that the commercial RPAS sector worldwide will experience a compounded annual growth rate of approximately 51% between 2014 and 2019 and revenues exceeding USD$5.1bil by 20192.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority was the first to directly address the safety concerns associated with RPAs by introducing the world’s first RPAS regulations in 2002. This foresight was well-placed: The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported that accidents involving RPAs rose markedly from 14 between 2003 and 2013 to 22 in 2015 alone3. That said, the number of licensed RPA operators increased nearly six-fold between 2015 and 2016, indicating that this surge in accidents involving RPAs is reflective of the increased prevalence of these aircraft. As a result of these regulations, RPA operators are now required to abide with technical instructions and related maintenance compliance requirements to maintain an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operator Certificate (UOC).

While none of the accidents involving RPAs between 2003 and 2015 reported injuries or fatalities, they still serve to highlight the importance of regularly examining the skilling requirements related to the operation and maintenance of RPAs. The Aviation IRC led the charge in vocational skills development by creating the first qualifications associated with RPA technology in the world. The AVI30316 Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight) is relevant to individuals operating RPAs within visual line of sight (VLOS) below 400 feet above ground level. The AVI Aviation Training Package also includes the AVISS00057 Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Observer Skill Set, which reflects the work required by people who operate aeronautical radio communications, apply situational awareness in RPA operations and participate in basic workplace communications as part of their role within RPA aviation operational environments.

Now, the Aviation Industry Reference Committee (IRC) is investigating the possibility of further enhancing the vocational skills required to safely operate and control RPAs within a broader range of operating environments than previously approved, including:

  • operations by night
  • operations in controlled and non-controlled aerodromes
  • operations in controlled airspace above 400ft above ground level (AGL)
  • operations under instrument flight rules
  • autonomous flight operations
  • liquid fuel engines
  • sub 25kg RPAS type endorsements
  • operational endorsements
  • infrastructure Inspections
  • survey and mapping
  • aerial photography / imagery and analysis

As part of their analysis of feedback from industry the Aviation IRC will examine the need to develop additional Training Package products for Chief Remote Pilots and Maintenance Controllers aligned to the duties and compliance functions of CASR Part 101. RPA technology will feature in a showcase held during the Australian International AIRSHOW 2017 in Geelong from 3-5 March, where industry experts will provide drone demonstrations and information sessions. Click here for more information.