Just days before the FAA is scheduled to announce recommendations from a micro drone task force (coincidentally, I’m sure, timed for April Fool’s day), Australia joins the US’s closest neighbors to the north and south in issuing simplified, risk-based regulations for commercial operations of micro UAS. The weight-based categories adopted by the Australians, similar to those of Mexico and Canada, minimize the most burdensome commercial requirements (including pilot license requirements) for drones weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) or less. According to the preface to the rule changes, these changes are intended to provide “greater flexibility and responsiveness in a rapidly evolving area.”
The new rules, which become effective in September of this year, require commercial operators to notify the Civil Aviation Safety Authority – the equivalent of the FAA – rather than obtaining a time-consuming and expensive unmanned operator permit or drone operator license. In order to take advantage of the micro drone rule, commercial operators would have to meet the same operational restrictions as hobby flyers:
- Operate the drone within visual line-of-sight,
- Operate at or below 400 feet above ground level by day,
- Operate no closer than 30 meters (150 feet) from non-participating persons,
- Not operate in restricted or prohibited airspace, populous areas or within 3 nautical miles of the movement area of a controlled airport,
- Not operate over fire, police or other emergency operation without approval and
Operate only one drone at a time.
As I have written about in the past, different rules for hobby and commercial operators of micro UAS don’t make sense from a safety perspective. I believe risk-based weight categories – including a micro drone category – with operational restrictions such as adopted by the Australians would afford a safe yet flexible approach to this rapidly changing, technological field. In the US, it would legalize the thousands of operators who are flying 3 and 4 pound drones for compensation or for business purposes. Legalizing these operations would allow these operators to come out of the shadows and operate openly without fear of FAA prosecution.
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