CASA CEO outlines RPAS regulatory roadmap

By on 22 September, 2021

Image ©stock.adobe.com/au/bannafarsai

CASA CEO Pip Spence has outlined work on a regulatory roadmap to give the uncrewed aircraft sector direction and understanding of likely regulatory requirements.

“Historically, aviation regulation has been prescriptive… Today we understand the need to have outcome-based regulations and an approach that recognises that regulators don’t have all the answers,” Spence said in an address to Australia’s first Advanced Air Mobility Summit this month.

“This approach allows the aviation industry to have the flexibility to use the most appropriate systems and procedures to achieve the safety outcomes the community expects that are set out in the rules.

“The fast-growing and changing nature of the uncrewed sector means new safety and regulatory issues will emerge, demanding fresh thinking on behalf of the regulator, operators and individuals,” Spence added.

“I guess what is really being said is that how we regulate safety in the world of advanced air mobility is still evolving and will mature over time.”

CASA’s Aviation Safety Advisory Panel has set up a technical working group to co-design the roadmap with CASA.

The working group is addressing nine principles that cover issues such as regulatory cost, acceptable levels of safety, streamlining processes and supporting innovation.

The group has been asked to consider four core questions:

  • Where should CASA regulate?
  • Where can technology be leveraged to assist in regulation?
  • Where are non-technology solutions best suited?
  • How does Australia’s regulatory framework compare with the rest of the world and what needs to change to support global harmonisation?

“Today we understand the need to have outcome-based regulations and an approach that recognises that regulators don’t have all the answers,” said Spence.

“This approach allows the aviation industry to have the flexibility to use the most appropriate systems and procedures to achieve the safety outcomes the community expects that are set out in the rules.

“You can choose to use a means of compliance provided by the regulator or you can find a different way to comply as long as the equivalent safety outcomes can be achieved.”

Spence added that “For the uncrewed sector, which is the embodiment of innovation, freedom to work with the safety rules and not butt up against them as a hard barrier is essential”.

Spence noted that to date, almost 2,200 organisations have gained a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operators Certificate, ranging from sole traders to large multi-national organisations.

Those organisations have nearly 30,000 drones registered, and there are around 22,000 Remote Pilot Licences on issue, with about 300 new licences issued on average each month.

“It won’t take long before that overtakes the number of traditional pilots in Australia,” she said.

With regard to ongoing work with regulations, Spence noted that “Safety is of course the number one priority, but we also have a responsibility to ensure regulations and requirements do not stop businesses and individuals reaching their potential and being rewarded for their efforts”.

“This is particularly important in fast growing and innovating sectors where the burden of unnecessary red tape can stymie new ideas and discourage investment at critical points.”

Spence also said that it is “vital that open dialogue between CASA and the uncrewed and Advanced Air Mobility sector continues as we all understand there is no end point for these discussions, but rather they are steps along a path to a future we are still defining.

“Despite the fact that we are designing a future in aviation without knowing the what the full picture looks like, there are some areas of focus for CASA and other regulators right now,” she added.

Those areas of focus include:

  • the design, certification and airworthiness of new aircraft
  • the design and implementation of future airspace arrangements
  • training and licensing standards for pilots/controllers
  • standards for ground infrastructure

Spence acknowledged that “Australian Association for Unmanned Systems members have expressed concern about the time it takes for applications like this to be assessed and processed.

“This is an entirely valid concern…,” she said, adding that “it is obvious smarter solutions are needed to efficiently deliver the appropriate safety outcomes without becoming a red tape hurdle”.

“We’ve now created standard scenarios for assessment which can be applied to a wide range of situations — particularly for beyond-visual-line-of-sight applications,” she said.

“For each standard scenario there is guidance material, including information about how to assess an area, and the risk mitigations and procedures required to support the application.

“In this way we are making the whole process simpler.”

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