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

ALECK, Dr Jonathan, General Manager, Legal Affairs, Regulatory Policy and International Strategy Branch, Civil Aviation Safety Authority

CARMODY, Mr Shane, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Aviation Safety, Civil Aviation Safety Authority

CRAWFORD, Mr Graeme, Group Manager, Aviation Group, Civil Aviation Safety Authority

GUMLEY, Mr Luke, Manager, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Civil Aviation Safety Authority


CHAIR: Welcome. The committee has received your submission, which we have numbered submission 17, and published it on our website. Would you like to make any amendments or additions to your submission?

Mr Carmody : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Carmody : Yes, I would. Thank you for the opportunity to make a short opening statement today. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the work of this committee, which has been helping to improve awareness and safety through public hearings on remotely piloted aircraft systems, commonly known as drones. We are absolutely supportive of any initiative which improves understanding of both commercial and recreational drone operations in Australia.

Secondly, from viewing the transcripts of some of the hearings, I note that the committee is of the view that we don't take the RPAS issue seriously. I can assure you that we do. Since we last spoke, a number of significant developments have taken place at a fast pace. There has been a significant ramping up of our education program. CASA's Can I fly there? app was launched in late-May 2017 and, as of mid-August, the smartphone app has been downloaded over 35,000 times and the web version has been accessed over 60,000 times. A major update of the app is planned for the beginning of the 2017 bushfire system, allowing alerts to fire-affected postcodes and warnings of the no-drone policy near emergency areas.

As another new initiative from CASA, we've used cinema advertising to target recreational drone operators with no prior aviation involvement or knowledge. We did this over eight weeks in June and July of this year. There was a marked spike in downloads of and unique visitors to the app during the cinema advertising period. On completion of the campaign, Val Morgan reported the advertisement had reached a total audience of over 435,000, an 18 per cent greater reach than they expected.

Further, there is a dedicated section on the CASA website which includes a drone e-learning module aimed at anyone wanting to operate drones recreationally or commercially to help them understand the safety rules applying to their drone in its weight category.

We're also developing a new stand-alone website called Drone Flyer, which will feature a very simple, plain-English, accessible explanation of the rules and supporting educational material. Our outreach program to schools, which aims to educate teachers to support drone safety awareness in the school curriculum, commenced with a trial program held on 23 June of this year in Western Sydney. Following the success of that program, CASA plans to extend it to other areas.

As part of CASA's ongoing review of RPAS regulations, we published a discussion paper—as you know—on 11 August to engage with the community and aviation industry on issues and concerns which have been raised either directly with CASA or indirectly through a range of other forums. The paper canvasses many of the issues raised by this committee and is available for public comment until 22 September. So far, we've received over 700 comments. Initial feedback indicates that around 90 per cent of respondents agreed with some form of registration system, more than 90 per cent agree with some form of mandatory training and about half disagree with geofencing. Once this paper is complete, we intend to provide our response to this committee.

Further, we are codeveloping a risk assessment framework with other national aviation authorities and regional aviation safety organisations to establish a single set of technical safety and operational requirements for certification and safe integration of drones into airspace at aerodromes. Just two weeks ago, I set up a remotely piloted aircraft branch and brought together under one branch all of the people in CASA who are working on drones. This will help us further leverage our existing knowledge and expertise, and enhance the effectiveness of our approach to this sector.

We've continued to streamline our approach to get better outcomes, reduce processing times and costs. I've continued to discuss drones with members of the aviation industry and members of various associations, including pilots' associations. CASA takes the aviation safety challenge posed by drones very seriously, and we are closely monitoring the developments overseas, including registration schemes and proposals for further integration of drones into airspace. I'm happy to take your questions.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Carmody. In all fairness you will have the right to reply, but I have been very critical in the past because I believed, up until a few weeks ago, that CASA wasn't taking this as seriously as I would have liked. You have the right to defend your position. It's good to see that we are now on the same path, I hope. Anyway. If you want to respond, please feel free.

Mr Carmody : Senator, we have continued to take it seriously, and we have been engaging as broadly as we possibly can in this space. But I acknowledge the committee's concerns, and hopefully the things that I have outlined will demonstrate that we have a multipronged approach in terms of drone operation, education, those sorts of things.

CHAIR: Do we know how many drones are here in Australia, both recreational and/or commercial?

Mr Carmody : We don't. The estimate that seems to be kicked around is around 50,000, and it's a reasonable estimate but I don't know the number.

CHAIR: Can you tell me about the successful prosecution in Townsville? I just want to know how that came about, what was the result? It is not going to make a difference to the report that we write, but it would be interesting to know.

Dr Aleck : My understanding is that matter was initiated under state legislation. I'm not quite sure how far it has progressed. It was not a matter that CASA was dealing with directly, so we will find out what the outcome is. I also understand that because the individual involved was under 18, it may be approached somewhat differently. The whole question of whether matters like this can, should and ought more effectively be dealt with under state legislation is a bit fraught but we are pursuing that one. As soon as we get more information, I'm happy to send it.

CHAIR: I appreciate that. Where can I not fly a drone in Australia? Are there any specific areas, buildings, whatever? Is there a no-go zone? Airports I know it is not within three nautical miles.

Mr Carmody : Certainly airports and landing zones are restricted. So helicopter landing zones, as our app would show you, are restricted areas. It is within 5.5 kilometres of those. There is controlled airspace and I'm sure there are restrictions in some airspace. I don't have it in front of me, but I would assume that there are clear areas of airspace where you can't fly.

CHAIR: What if I wanted to fly a drone over Parliament House here in Canberra? Would that be possible? Do I have to come to CASA or Airservices or anyone to apply for a permit, or am I right just to shoot it over the building?

Mr Carmody : There is no controlled airspace over Parliament House, as far as I know. But one of my colleagues would know.

Mr Crawford : What I'm aware of is when there are certain events, there is a restriction put in place. So, for example, on Anzac Day there is a restriction put over Parliament House.

CHAIR: On notice, could you forward to me any information about flying drones around Parliament House, and what conditions there are before that is permitted or not permitted?

Mr Carmody : Certainly, Senator.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I just take you to paragraph 38 of your submission, where you talk about part 101 amendments and the consultation process? In subparagraph (a) you talk about the potential damage and assessment of a mid-air collision with a small UAV, based on the report you have presented to us previously and discussed. You obviously heard discussion this morning about the UK's report recently, where they look at the potential impact of much smaller drones, particularly those with exposed metal components and particularly looking at rotor craft and the catastrophic damage that occurs to tail rotors, and I would argue potentially main rotors as well. With that study and those quantifiable results now available, (a) are you aware of it and (b) do you have a process under way to consider what impact that might have on your current part 101 amendments?

Mr Carmody : Certainly we're aware of the study. We've had a look at the study, and it's quite a comprehensive and very interesting study. In terms of any amendments to our current part 101, we're holding those until we finish the discussion paper and then we'll review all of the results. We'll see what we hear from the discussion paper and any advances in literature, such as that study, and see what the impacts might be.

Senator FAWCETT: The ATSB submission highlighted that rotorcraft, in particular, as a percentage of flying hours versus incidents, clearly have a far higher probability of interaction with RPAS than fixed-wing, and particularly RPT aircraft. Has that focused CASA's attention on reviewing perhaps that risk, the likelihood plus consequence? The UK report plus ATSB's report go to both of those underpinnings of risk. Has that triggered any rework within CASA to understand what additional measures you may need to take?

Mr Carmody : Certainly, it has. I will pass to Mr Crawford, if I may.

Mr Crawford : Obviously, we're aware of some of the information, particularly recently from the UK report. We're aware that helicopter windshields and GA windshields, which aren't bird-strike certified, wouldn't handle a drone either. So, we are considering that data as we consider our response to the safety risks. You will know from that report as well that it highlighted that airliner windshields performed better than the model, as we probably would expect, because they're triple laminated. Yes, we are considering it and we are taking a sector view at CASA more so than we have perhaps done in the past. So, when we consider RPAS as a sector in its own right, we also consider rotorcraft and the different elements of rotorcraft and recognise that certain elements are perhaps more prone to meeting drones—so, in agricultural applications, potentially.

Senator FAWCETT: Sorry. You've completely derailed my train of thought, Mr Crawford.

CHAIR: I've been trying to do that for the last six years you've been here and I've never succeeded!

Senator FAWCETT: You have. You'll have to take some lessons. CASA has previously expressed some concern about the maturity of technology such as geofencing. I've actually just been going through your submission again, and I thought you'd mentioned something in here that some of those technologies could potentially introduce risks. But we heard a comment before about DJI as an OEM—and I haven't been able to clarify whether this is their intent or whether this is what they are doing now—and that their product off the shelf is limited to a 100-foot bubble around the operator. If that concept is viable and mature enough that an OEM is doing that, why would we not look at a whole-of-government approach where we limited imports and sales to only OEMs that were prepared to take that approach so that we completely avoid the example of the Christmas present with an ill-informed operator who happens to fly it under a helicopter route or near an airport? And if it is true that DJI have put this in place, then it says that it's mature enough that it's commercially viable, therefore it's probably reliable enough that we can actually start limiting the 90 per cent of the unintentional incidents due to lack of knowledge. Why would we not take that as a key approach to the government?

Mr Carmody : Firstly, I'm not sure that it's true. One of my colleagues might know, as we stay as closely as we can to these sorts of developments. If geofencing—and I'll call it 'geofencing' in that context—or limiting a bubble around a drone is technically feasible, does mature and does become that way, that is certainly one of the methods that you could use to control drones and manage some elements of the risk. I'm not certain that it's as mature as advertised as yet. They're a very big marketer of drones—the biggest in the world. They're obviously trying to stay the biggest in the world, or get bigger. I'm not sure how it actually interacts with other technologies as well. So, I think that the jury is out. It sounds logical and sensible, and we will certainly consider it. But in terms of whether it is there yet, I'm not sure.

Senator FAWCETT: Could you undertake to have one of your people contact them, and OEM, and ascertain and come back to the committee with a view on that.

Mr Carmody : Certainly.

Senator FAWCETT: Because, if it's technically feasible and we limit the market to only manufacturers who meet that technical bar, as sure as apples come from trees, other manufacturers will reach that bar if they want to sell into the market. That then gives us a starting point where, over five years, with degrading batteries and all the rest of it, the old fleet will disappear and we'll be in a much better space for those 49,000 recreational users to encourage, through capability, their requirement to increase their level of knowledge before their machine becomes more capable.

Mr Carmody : We certainly will, Senator. We'll certainly take it on notice. We'll ask the question. I was hopeful we might even have the answer, but I assume we don't. We'll ask the question and come back to the committee and let you know what we find. I think, conceptually, in isolation, it sounds like a very positive outcome. I would just like to see how it fits.

Mr Crawford : Just expanding on the answer slightly, obviously, there's potential also to restrict the altitude using that sort of technology. And, within the recreational space, that may be something that's attractive. So, I think from our perspective, there's lots of potential.

Senator FAWCETT: That is the key attractiveness of that technology.

Mr Crawford : So there's lots of potential. I think we just haven't necessarily seen it being used in earnest yet. And I think that's where we're at, at this moment in time.

Mr Carmody : Senator, Mr Gumley says he might have some further information for you which might help respond to that question.

Mr Gumley : As you know, geofencing is a relatively complex matter. The likes of DJI have quite advanced geofencing. However, it comes down to the user and whether they elect to use that particular application. So, I'd imagine most people would use it, because that's what comes out of the box; however, you're not obliged to use it. You could use a different piece of technology, the software side of it, to drive the particular drone. So, there would be a level of complexity in saying what software a particular user could use to drive the particular drone. So, at present, yes, the technology exists and DJI do have that. For example, in the US, if you would like to be able to use a drone in an area that DJI considers perhaps you shouldn't, it will come up with an alert on your app saying you shouldn't fly here. They have other zones—I can't quite recall the exact terminology—but they're cautionary zones. In those zones, an alert will say, 'We don't think you should.' Then it requires you to go onto the DJI website, enter a credit card—that's a form of identification; it doesn't cost anything—and that's a way of verifying who you are. And then you'll get a licence, like a key, to be able to use the drone for a particular period of time. That's something that DJI does have in the US and a number of countries around the world. We plan to have discussions in the coming months with DJI to try and have that in Australia as well, if it's possible.

Senator FAWCETT: So, if we made it a requirement of import—and you've said it's complex to make sure they use the right system—it's just a matter of the OEM writing their software so it will only work with their system and appropriate codes, whether that be credit card based, PIN based or whatever. But, from a whole-of-government perspective, we said that that is a requirement for import, bearing in mind that it won't address perhaps the one per cent of operators who get a 3D printer and build their own—and they're a pretty small subset, to be honest, particularly in terms of the problem set we're dealing with. Would CASA welcome and support a recommendation to the minister that this is a really good baseline approach to controlling the problem set and we can then help people expand as they demonstrate competence to use the full capability of the device?

Mr Carmody : Senator, from my perspective, I would be happy to consider it. Referring to one of your earlier discussions—and I still want to look at it in the context of a system and ensure that this works within the aviation safety system that we have established. But, in principle, if some of these controls are available and workable, it may well be a workable solution. I think it would be potentially one of many solutions in reality. We will continue to investigate that, as we've undertaken to do already. We are working within our drones area to investigate all possible options. The fact that we have a discussion paper out, with 700 submissions, doesn't mean we're just waiting for it to come back. There's a lot of work. There's a lot of discussion. There is dealing with manufacturers. There is a lot of work underway to see whether we can bring this system together and, in that process, hopefully assist the committee in its work as well.

Senator FAWCETT: Don't get me wrong. I applaud the range of efforts in issues like the cinema and things like that. It's fantastic in terms of informing people. But I think you were here before, when I talked about the DJI blog site, or the forum. Despite all of the training and licensing that we give to professional pilots, you get the occasional person who thinks it will be fun to beat someone up or push the boundaries et cetera. If you have a large population who have never been through that rigour, nor understand the risks that emanate from their conduct, then that kind of culture that's reflected in the blogs says that trying to regulate and educate through what is essentially a voluntary system is going to be almost unmanageable. That is why I think we need to have a system where we use the technology to limit the exposure to other aviation users, and only allow it to expand as you do at the moment. The commercial RPAS licence regime is very thorough, and it's great for people who want to operate commercially. What's missing is the middle piece between someone who can essentially buy a toy that they can fly to 100 feet around them and someone who wants to operate something with more capability.

This is my final question for you. Let's say we did go down that three-tiered system, where, without constraint, you can buy a toy, but you've got a technical constraint that you can only fly it in a little bubble, and, at the other end, we already have your commercial system, but in the middle there's the technology piece—and we'll explore that—but then there's the education and licensing approach. I've raised before the example of the maritime radio operators' licence, where, dangerous as that device is, every user has to actually pass an independently invigilated exam. Would CASA be the right body to take your current rule set—around three nautical miles, 400 feet et cetera—and create an online course or syllabus that perhaps could be run by the private sector and then an exam that people would sit so that they could then, with a number saying, 'I have demonstrated a degree of knowledge and competence by passing this exam,' go back to the OEM to get that technical unlock to operate in that middle recreational space? Would CASA be the person to do that?

Mr Carmody : You could do that, in reality. It is achievable. You've gone through quite a number of steps. There's a fair bit of complexity in that, I might say. But yes. We are the regulator. It is fundamentally our responsibility. The question would be—and that's one of the things that we're looking for in our survey—how much education would be enough? How much do you actually need? As you indicated, quite rightly, in the commercial sector there is a significant amount of rigour. How much, verging from nothing to that, do we actually need? And how would you manage such an arrangement? And how would you link it if the government decided to register every drone, for example? How would you make all of these things fit together? As I said, I think there is a fair bit of complexity in this space. But, on its face, it's achievable. But it would cost.

Mr Crawford : Obviously you've got to try and get the balance between too much bureaucracy and value-added education and training. I think we're hoping that some of the information we'll get back from the discussion paper might shed some light on what people think that balance is. Also, just to some of the earlier discussions on geofencing, if you look at registration and training, there seems to be a pretty strong correlation for doing something. Geofencing is a fifty-fifty split so far in respondents. We'd like to understand why the respondents think that. Something is driving that split. That information is obviously going to be very helpful in this space.

CHAIR: I want to go back to Parliament House. What are the restrictions for flying a drone over buildings now?

Mr Carmody : At the moment, the drone restrictions are based on location, altitude and risk.

CHAIR: Have you got them there?

Dr Aleck : The requirements that are generally applicable to all RPA operations prohibit operations which pose a hazard to property and people.

CHAIR: Let's get it out on the table. What is the law? What are CASA's rules about flying drones over buildings? Can I zap a drone over this building, for instance—or your headquarters, as long as you're not within three nautical miles of the airport?

Dr Aleck : With the exclusion of those situations, which, as you said, are already prohibited for some other reason, the requirement is that you not operate a drone in such a way that creates a hazard. That's not a distance or a specific location; it's a result of the way it's being operated.

CHAIR: If I wanted to zap a drone over Parliament House, can I just sit there and zip it out from the car park or wherever? What would you do? What would you say to me?

Dr Aleck : You want to zap it? Do you mean bring one down?

CHAIR: I'm flying over Parliament House. I'm filming Parliament House and I'm filming the sporting fields where there might happen to be a rugby game on between politicians.

Dr Aleck : I'm looking at our app right now, and I see that the—is that Parliament House?

Mr Gumley : Correct.

Dr Aleck : Parliament House is within the control zone of Canberra Airport. So, that operation is, in fact, not appropriate.

CHAIR: Illegal?

Dr Aleck : Yes.

CHAIR: That's exactly right. If I had footage of a drone floating over Parliament House, filming a game of politicians running around out here on a cloudy day, what would you do? Would you want to talk to the person who took that footage or do we just say: 'Oh, well, it's happened. Don't worry about it'? You know where I'm heading, I think.

Dr Aleck : This is the kind of thing that we would investigate if the information came to our attention.

CHAIR: Alright. We know that on the web you can go to one of the senators—I will say it, Senator Pauline Hanson, the leader of One Nation, has on her website film of Parliament House on a cloudy day from a drone, and then there was a rugby match down here between the pollies who support Queensland and the pollies who support New South Wales. I'm raising with you now, through the Hansard, that I have a real concern. You see, I have to be consistent. It might be a bit of a dribble, but I have to get this out. We cannot have one set of rules for politicians and sets of rules for other Australians, because we are no different. In fact, we should be upholding the rule. How do I put a complaint to CASA that I would like to have this investigated? How do I do that? Do I have to put a letter and get run around by the Privacy Act? What will happen?

Mr Carmody : We will take that request and have it investigated. I was under the impression that we might have already. I'd like to look at it to see whether, in fact, we have, because it was a public event—well, a publicised event, dare I say. I will take it as a formal complaint and request for investigation.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Carmody. We have set questions taken on notice to two weeks. I don't expect you to come back to me tomorrow or the next day. I understand that this is now an inquiry. For the purposes of the Hansard, Senator Fawcett and Senator O'Sullivan, I wrote, not in my capacity as Chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee but as a concerned senator, in respect of Senator Hanson also being filmed on television scooting—I think it was Cairns. Can someone help me out there? There was an investigation done. Can I ask questions of how that investigation went?

Mr Carmody : Certainly, Senator. You did write to us and we responded. An investigation was conducted, as you would expect, in accordance with our coordinated enforcement manual, and the investigation's now complete.

CHAIR: Yes. I have it in front of me from your good self, signed off, Mr Carmody, that a senator—ordinary Glenn Sterle hanging around here—cannot be told what the outcome was, because of the Privacy Act. I'm now going to use my position as Chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee here in the Senate. I'd like the committee to be informed of what happened. How do I do this, Mr Carmody? Do we go in camera?

Mr Carmody : I might defer to my general counsel on my right. My understanding is that the fact that an investigation occurred and the fact that it had been resolved would be publicly notified but not the outcome where it would breach the privacy of the individual.

CHAIR: Dr Aleck, throw your legal lines at me!

Dr Aleck : As a matter of good practice, we tend not to go into detail in hearings. We would do that in respect to any individual.

CHAIR: But I asked about information from a prosecution in Townsville. You were prepared, and, quite rightly, I know you're going to pull the legal stuff. But I'll use parliamentary privilege. We cannot sit here and have what appears to be or could appear to be one set of rules for politicians and one for others. The Australian public have the right to know. I don't care what her middle name is or whatever. I'm raising concerns, which I have done many times through this committee process. When I'm sitting at the hotel in Kununurra and there's a father and son playing with drones less than a kilometre away from the end of a runway, why should they be treated any differently to a senator? You're going to have to really work hard to appease me that the rules were applied to Senator Hanson as they would have been applied to any other normal Australian who may have broken CASA's rules.

Dr Aleck : I'm happy to say that (a) this particular matter was treated exactly as it would've been treated whoever was involved and (b) if the committee were to go in camera—it's a matter for you, Chair, of course—we would much more comfortably discuss the details of this.

CHAIR: I appreciate that, but I've also got my colleague in Queensland—my co-chair—who will be back here next week. I will ask Senator O'Sullivan—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I'm back on air now.

CHAIR: Senator O'Sullivan, we've been offered the opportunity to go in camera. Would you rather be here in Canberra to hear the evidence?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: First, I'd be interested in the grounds for going in camera. There's public interest in all of this. What are the grounds?

CHAIR: Dr Aleck?

Dr Aleck : Again, the grounds are simply a matter of practice. We would defer to the committee if the committee required us to provide information in or out of camera. But, just as a matter of practice, we tend not to provide information involving individuals and the outcomes of investigations irrespective of who they are. It's not a privacy matter because providing the information in response to a requirement from a Senate committee would be an exception to the privacy provisions.

Mr Carmody : I may just add something. We publish our enforcement decisions on our website. We commenced that when I returned to this role. It was something that was done when I was in the role in the past. We, as a practice—in other words, treating all citizens the same—do not reveal individual names on our website. We reveal company names, but we redact individual names for the same reason. So the point that I'm making, if I may, is that we're being absolutely consistent. We were consistent, and we ran our coordinated enforcement. Our enforcement experts went and spoke to the operator. Once they had spoken to the operator, they came to a conclusion, they came back to us and our coordinated enforcement mechanism applied. It was discussed in the coordinated enforcement forum, then it was resolved. It was done in exactly the same way as we do everyone else. The assurance that I wanted to give you was that it has been absolutely consistent.

Senator FAWCETT: So, if members of the public—perhaps using Senator Sterle's pub example—heard that there was an incident over there and wanted to look on your website to see what the enforcement outcome was, they'd never learn who the dad and the boy were, but they'd know that there was an incident at a Western Australian airfield and the outcome was that the person was fined, warned or whatever? If somebody wants to search a website for an incident in Cairns, could the public look for what the outcome of that incident was on your website and see what CASA's decision was?

Dr Aleck : The enforcement decisions would involve decisions taken by CASA to take particular enforcement action. Action that didn't involve formal enforcement—a variation, suspension, cancellation or an imposition of a fine—would not appear on the website because it doesn't fall within the category of enforcement. When something doesn't happen, that's not published, because the public isn't normally interested in what doesn't happen. But I'll say again that the processes that we use to assess matters like this are transparent to the extent that they need to be, and, for the purposes of this committee's interest, they could certainly be.

Committee adjourned at 12:30