The Area Approval process seems to have many certified UAV Operators getting a little hot under the collar with the aviation regulators, due to the delays and costs in processing these approvals.
We fully understand the anxiety & frustration from this and the imposition it has on people’s businesses, but there are safety implications to consider and the last thing we want right now is UAV Operators breaching the regulations and giving the regulators a reason to restrict us even more.
ACUO is on the case and talking with Airservices Australia and CASA on how we can resolve the issue. Bear in mind that all manned aircraft in Controlled airspace are required to carry a transponder and be able to squawk a discrete transponder code. Currently, UAVs operating below 400ft AGL do not. If we want it to stay that way let’s all act responsibly until we can find a more workable solution.
In the meantime, the best advice is to get your Area Approval applications in to the CASA office at the earliest possible convenience. By the time CASA look at your application and get an estimate back to you can take a week and the estimate is valid for a full 30 days.
If the job for the Area Approval goes ahead, all you have to do is pay the amount via direct EFT and notify the CASA office with a remittance advice. The application should go for processing the same or next day. If the job falls through then you cancel the Area Approval application immediately.
What you need to be cognisant of with your application is not just the increased public risk from your proposed operations but the generally higher aviation risks, and what might happen should you encounter a problem or fault in your UAV system. In Controlled airspace there is usually a higher RF environment and the communications link is often the weak-point in UAV systems. There are also myriad ways to deal with emergencies in different UAVs. You might have some idea of what your UAV will do in an emergency, but Airservices has no certainty, and that’s exactly what they do need if they are going to be directing manned aircraft to avoid you.
It is also not uncommon to find manned aircraft below 500ft AGL in Controlled airspace and there are safe separation standards that need to be applied between aircraft, both manned and unmanned. The reality is that most if not all other aviation activities have priority over UAV operations and often those manned aircraft operating below 500ft AGL are there for a more serious reason than yours or mine.
Obviously, you will improve the application processing time if you use the standard Area Approval application and the matrix provided, to give as much safety information as you can to CASA & ASA for them to make a reasonable determination. If CASA & ASA can clearly see in your application that you have conducted a thorough risk assessment and can clearly see how certain risks will be mitigated, your chances of success are going to be greatly improved.
Above all, please, be patient and don’t be tempted to give the regulator an excuse to move the other way. We are doing our best to resolve the situation but it isn’t going to happen overnight.