CASA under 2kg class! Why deregulating the DJI Phantom won’t work

In May of last year CASA released an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) to the wider UAV industry in Australia. Proposal #4 looks to waive the current requirement for commercial operation of a UAV under the 2kg class. At first glance you would think that this opens up the industry to every Tom, Dick and Harry. However, that is not the case.

In this post, I step out 3 key reasons why this proposal may have difficulties in the real world. And, if anything, make for an even higher risk of incident in Australian skies.

1. You can’t get Public Liability Insurance without an Operators Certificate (OC).

2. The payload these UAVs carry is still too small for commercial purposes.

3. Filming as a “one man op” produces inferior results.

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Drone licensing is being developed by governments around the world in response to the rapid increase of their use by consumers and commercial operators. In many cases this has been in reaction to what is happening in their skies and not in anticipation of how the drones could be used to enhance productivity. The technology is moving at such a pace that regulatory bodies have been caught off guard. Small UAVs are being bundled into “model aircraft” regulations so as to at least be seen as having some form of governance. The problem with this is, current UAVs that you can buy for under $1000 have flight controllers or “smarts” on board that allow them to do things that unless understood become dangerous. Add to this the fact that just about anyone can operate them and you have a potential for incident never before seen.
The deregulation of the under 2kg class is simply a way to say “we can’t keep up in that space”. As a commercial UAV operator this is deeply concerning. These new proposed rules will mean that someone who has not undergone the training in aviation safety, nor clocked the hours on a UAV is able to fly in areas that we (commercial operators) need to seek permission and are bound by strict rules and guidelines.

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There is one common sense fail safe at least that looks like it will keep most ‘want to be’ operators from not seeking UAV licensing. Insurance. I’ve spoken to a number of key aviation insurance companies here in Australia and the conversations are all the same. No insurance company is going to insure an unlicensed operator. The risks are just too large to be underwritten. The unknowns are just too unknown. So insurance will be the first layer of resistance against small UAVs under 2kg proliferating the commercial applications.

The second is the camera the smaller UAVS carry. Yes I know the new Phantom 3 released this week will shoot in 4k. But that is a very different 4k to what you get when shooting with a Panasonic GH4 Lumix on an S900. This restriction will dissolve over time. Especially with the advancement in camera technology. But right here right now a GoPro vs a DSLR camera is chalk and cheese. And professionals know this.

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Third and finally the deal breaker. UAVs that are operated by a single man operation (i.e. they fly the drone and steer the camera with a single person) result in sub professional results. Yes there are exceptions to this statement. I’ve seen a handful of ‘artists’ that have nailed the technique. Usually because they had experience in direction or camera work previously. But on the whole a non camera operator that picks up a Phantom and starts shooting ends up with pretty ‘head spinning’ results. Jerky, poorly composed videos are everywhere online. Unfortunately the realisation that things look amazing from the air somehow clouds people’s views on what is truly amazing and what is just a bloke / gal with a flying GoPro.

In summary, it’s an exciting time to be living in. Yes these small machines are amazing. However, for professionals and those seeking professional aerial services, the under 2kg class restriction is going to have very little impact on our industry. Unfortunately the impact it will have will be the expectation that more novices are in the air doing risky and unsafe operations. If you’re interested in reading an interesting blog re licensing please click HERE. If you’re interested in hearing the latest update from CASA re the NPRM check out the latest speech from the director at CASA. Very interesting.

Swarm UAV

We are Australian specialists in drone aerial photography and aerial cinematography. CASA Certified Pilots. We are a business with our heads in the clouds, and our feet firmly on the ground.

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