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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
26/06/2017
Regulatory requirements and the safe use of remotely piloted aircraft and unmanned aerial systems

TESSAROLO, Mr John, General Manager, Human Factors Group; Group Safety, Security, Compliance & QA, Regional Express

[14:24]

CHAIR: I would like to welcome Mr Tessarolo of Regional Express. The committee has received your submission, which it has numbered submission 70 and published on its website. I am going to invite you to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions.

Mr Tessarolo : I am not RPAS expert, but rather a stakeholder in aviation safety, in particular in regional aviation. Due to the range and diversity of the Rex group's aviation activities, the presence of RPAS in controlled and uncontrolled airspace could pose a risk to the safety of our operations and therefore Rex has a keen and vested interest in ensuring that the hazard of unmanned aircraft activities is managed to acceptable levels of safety. There are four recommendations that I would like to just read out.

Rex would like to recommend the following points. The first one is the requirement for comprehensive monitoring and oversight of RPAS operations for any operations that operate beyond CASA's standard restrictions. Rex considers it is incumbent upon CASA to ensure the safety of air navigation and therefore CASA must ensure effective oversight and control of RPAS operations. Rex considers that RPAS operators who are certified and subjected to an independent audit oversight regime may pose an acceptable risk to commercial air transport.

The second point is that consideration be given to the establishment of an effective drone violation reporting system, encompassing recreational RPAS operators and commercial airspace users. This information could assist airline operators to identify airspace that may pose hazards to aircraft in respect to reported unlawful RPAS operations. With the expected continual advancement of RPAS technology and increased activity levels, a risk-based approach to regulatory framework, including technical safety and operational requirements, will need to be implemented. This includes the individual registration of ownership of RPAS, as we believe this would act as a deterrent to illegal or dangerous RPAS activities, allowing the path for traceability.

The last point is that airborne collision avoidance systems, such as TCAS, have proven risk control in the prevention of midair collision. Therefore, if RPAS operations occupy the same airspace as commercial air transport operators, then the fitment of transponder type equipment should be mandated. ADSS transceivers that weigh less than 5,000 grams are available to RPAS operators. Rex takes a holistic view on this matter regarding transponders, and recently submitted a report to CASA regarding gliding hazards and requesting that the same type of devices be fitted.

CHAIR: You just heard the Australian Airline Pilots' Association. They outlined concerns that they have regarding decisions that have been made by CASA, which are reflective of resource constraints that they are facing. Those are their words. In your submission, you describe the decisions being made and the regulations that have been set as 'adequate'. You do not see any holes in the system?

Mr Tessarolo : The space in which drones are moving is unprecedented. For airlines, we are really just reliant on CASA to get these regulations correct. Based on the current AC 101, we do deem them as adequate at this particular point in time. But I am not suggesting that there cannot be some kind of improvement. In particular, I believe in the sub two-kilo category.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The evidence we received was that currently these drones cannot operate or go to certain heights within three kilometres of an airport. Some of your aircraft are still within a vulnerable contact with them up to 30 kilometres away from the aircraft. Do you consider that adequate for your operations? That is, for the first three kilometres you are safe and for the other 27 kilometres you are vulnerable. That is the rule as we sit here, based on the evidence from the pilots.

CHAIR: It is 40 kilometres.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: It is 40 kilometres and further in certain circumstances if you are ordered to fly at a certain elevated level.

Mr Tessarolo : In that context, no.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Even where there are rules on the little yellow slip of paper? That is the rule they open in the drone's box. The Chinese are printing the little yellow strip of paper for us. It says three or four things. It does not say to you, 'If you're feeling a bit unstable mentally, don't use this.' It does not talk about intoxication levels or parameters. It does not talk about your age and so on. I am one of the only dirty old Nats up here at the top table and we love Rex. We are big supporters of what you do in providing services out into our regional and rural areas.

Senator BACK: To Albany and Esperance.

Mr Tessarolo : We do.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But we need one voice on this. It would seem to me that this little yellow sheet of paper does not go far enough. There are the rules that your pilots operate under, and drone manufacturers can fit their rules into a sheet of paper that the Chinese do and put in the box. It is not even that long. That is the contrast that we have got. I do not think that they are adequate or sufficient. I think they are grossly insufficient. The only message I have got for you is we need all of you in this space to really have a thorough review of what is going on and join us, if you are as concerned as we are with respect to the circumstances.

CHAIR: Does Rex say it is okay; you 'do not see any problems'?

Mr Tessarolo : We did not say 'we do not see any problems'.

CHAIR: Sorry, they were my words.

Mr Tessarolo : There is room for improvement.

CHAIR: You said it was 'adequate'.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: No, he said 'it may be sufficient', which was what attracted my attention. You said 'that while the current regulations may be sufficient …' I am asking you to review that language because nobody we have heard from thinks the current regulations 'may be sufficient'.

CHAIR: So you, Mr Tessarolo, are the general manager of the human factors group. What is a human factors group?

Mr Tessarolo : The human factors group of Rex comprises group safety compliance, engineering, QA, dangerous goods and the human factors training of pilots.

CHAIR: So when you were writing your submission, did you consult your pilots? Did you ask them? Or did you just have a team inside your area that wrote it?

Mr Tessarolo : We had a team inside our area. This was actually written in consultation with one of our board members, who is knowledgeable in the space of RPAS.

CHAIR: With the greatest respect, I do not know who your board member is but I would much rather hear from the pilots themselves. When we have the most senior pilots in a Australia's aviation industry sitting before us, all as one saying 'we have an issue' and when we have former Qantas chief pilot, Chris Manning, now at ATSB saying very clearly 'anything in airspace—'

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And the air traffic controllers are saying it too. The only ones who might think things are okay are those who do have an interest in the unmanned aircraft space. They think everything is hunky dory in most instances. I too think you need to really go back and take a more critical look at the question with your pilots. They are the ones in the box seat.

CHAIR: I am a little bit alarmed. Anyway, you have got that message. If there is a different submission, we will take that submission late once you have spoken to your pilots. We would be happy to hear from them too should they want to appear. What system exists within your company to report drone violations? How does Rex do it?

Mr Tessarolo : Since 11 June 2016, we have had five events reported within our safety management system. The one on 11 June did not actually involve a Rex flight but involved a UAV that was spotted by an off-duty Rex pilot approximately 0.7 nautical miles from the threshold of runway 29 at Orange. The other reports actually did involve Rex aircraft. Effectively before December 2016, before CASA introduced their drone complaints form, there was no real system of identifying and reporting these to CASA. We reported these to CASA but just through our safety liaison people and then we just reported them to the ATSB.

CHAIR: That does not surprise us, particularly after CASA's very poor performance in front of Senate estimates a number of weeks ago when they referred to our concerns as: 'Why are we worried? There has not been an incident yet. It would be virtually like a bird strike.' So that does not surprise me one little bit.

This is my last one. In your submission, you talk about how you would be prepared to report the sightings of drone activity, which you have just told us. But, under the CASA and ATSB reporting regime, they are described as non-reportable events. If you have done the right thing, or your pilots have done the right thing, and reported it, do you get any feedback, or will someone just say, 'Thank you very much; check you later'? What happens?

Mr Tessarolo : From the ATSB, we have not actually received any feedback. I did receive from one CASA inspector, I believe—I am just delving into my memory with this—just a response saying that he will pass it on. From one report that we submitted using the actual complaints form, we just got a series of very generic questions about the drone event, but clearly we could not provide any answers, because it is almost impossible to provide those answers.

CHAIR: It has been proved very clearly—and ATSB have been very keen to work with us; there is no argument about that—that they have no idea who owns these things. There is no registration or number plates on them. There is no technology that says, 'This one flying by is owned by little Billy Jones down the corner there, who should be at school rather than flying his drone around the airport.' Thanks, Mr Tessarolo.

Senator BACK: Thank you very much for your evidence. Your second recommendation points to a drone violation reporting system. That suggests some sort of RFID chip in the drone so that, in the event that it comes down, at least there will be some sort of traceability from the original purchase, wouldn't there? As we know, with cattle RFID chips have read-write capacity and, when Senator O'Sullivan sells me one of his very valuable bulls for an overinflated price, we can actually record on the chip the change of ownership, but you are not going to be doing that with 100,000 drones. So do you think the only way in which you would be able to identify them so that they could feed into your violation reporting system would be a chip that describes the first owner?

Mr Tessarolo : As I stated, I am not an expert in drones, but with the state of technology that is occurring we do need a path of traceability. Whether that is a chip or some other mechanism, we need some kind of mechanism to be able to trace these violations. Currently, the violations that occur and that we note and pass on to the regulator and to the ATSB are totally anonymous. There is no recourse or avenue for the airlines to actually do anything about it. It is a very complex question because, if you look at some of these very small drones—these microdrones—how do you actually get any recording information on those? Our paper was submitted with a more holistic, overarching view. The airlines really are at the mercy, it is fair to say, of the regulator providing us with the answers, rather than the other way around, although we are happy to submit these sorts of papers and to provide any necessary feedback.

Senator BACK: Yes. In fact, I cannot think of another way of identifying them other than some sort of RFID chip, but then the obvious logical thing would be that, if you were caught, you would say, 'Well, I bought it from someone else and I paid cash for it, and I have no idea of who it was.' I guess an extension of that is that, if anybody who owns one of these things considers the insurance aspects at all—and they probably do not—they would also probably turn around and say, 'Well, as to the risk of me actually being identified as the owner, if I am flying it out of the 50th floor of a hotel in Sydney over Darling Harbour, unless someone physically sees me, there's going to be no way in the world they're going to identify me, and if they did I'd simply say, "Well, I bought on whatever these bloody things are"'—an auction.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Can I just ask a qualifying question. There are thousands of components that make up your aircraft, and some of them have a life. You understand what I mean—a whole of life?

Mr Tessarolo : Yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: They can be sold second-hand, although often that is not the case; you take them to end of life and replace them. But every one of them has an identifying mark on it. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of components of an aircraft all have their own subset of identification numbers embedded in them somehow. So, where there is a trade there, and you have to take them off your logbook and someone else, if they choose to fit them to an aircraft, has to put them on their logbook—if we can do that, and we can do it with millions of motor vehicles and millions of firearms and 10 million head of cattle each year; it goes on and on—why can't we have a system that follows the ownership of a drone with a particular identification or registration mark? I know it is cumbersome, and someone is going to have to hit a keyboard. But it is possible.

Mr Tessarolo : It is. But this is something that the regulator needs to mandate. We do note with interest, if you look at the excluded RPA class, the sub-two-kilo class, that if you ring up and register within five days of using these commercially, CASA basically says that operators that are required to notify CASA should either attach to or insert into their aircraft a fireproof identification plate or write in the identification details in indelible ink. That is about as far as the regulator has gone in actually saying, 'Let's identify these drones.' So, it really comes down to the regulations keeping up with technology.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I appreciate that, but if you heard their evidence, they do not think that registering these drones and giving them an identification will necessarily act as a deterrent. Did you hear that evidence from them?

Mr Tessarolo : No, I did not.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So, can I ask you—you are in the transport industry—why do we put registration plates on aircraft and put the letters big enough so that someone can see them? Is there a reason for that? Does it make them fly better?

Mr Tessarolo : Clearly no.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: No. It is because if they behave in a certain way—it is a deterrent for a pilot. And it may not be that they behave badly, but it is a way to identify an aircraft, like number plates on motor cars. Why do those silly old bank robbers take the grinder to the barrel of the firearm and get rid of the ID number before they go and rob the bank? Again, I am trying to tease out responses from people in the industry who are most affected by it.

Mr Tessarolo : We agree wholeheartedly—for an identification system and a traceability and a registration system, that if you purchase your drone from your local electronics store then before you walk out the door you register it accordingly.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And your view about competency training of individuals who own these?

Mr Tessarolo : There must be an education—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And competency test?

Mr Tessarolo : Absolutely. At the end of the day, to purchase a drone that weighs two kilos, to notify CASA five days prior to using it commercially and not have to have a pilot licence or an operating certificate and just start taking photos or whatever you are going to do with that drone commercially, with the only requirement being that you understand the AC—there are no checks and balances. And I come from a flying background, so I understand the whole training and checking program, and we certainly advocate that.

Senator BACK: My second question goes to your recommendation 3, an airborne collision avoidance system. I think you were saying that transponders weigh less than 5,000 grams, which is five kilograms, which probably does not make them applicable to a drone that weighs less than two kilograms—in that particular case, where you are talking about larger unmanned vehicles.

Mr Tessarolo : Correct. But with the advent of technology we are hoping that these sorts of transceivers become smaller and smaller and that they, as you said, have some kind of chip mechanism that can actually act as a transceiver that can be shown up on the TCAS of an aircraft.

CHAIR: Mr Tessarolo, thank you for your time, and we look forward to some feedback from your pilots.

Mr Tessarolo : Thank you. That is noted.