Australian industry, government and academia met in Canberra this week to solve the issues of operating RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) in commercial airspace, and to support the unmanned industry’s huge future in Australia and the rest of the world.
Over 7-8 March 2016, the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems (AAUS) held its productive ‘RPAS in Australian skies’ conference in Canberra, featuring high-level international and local representatives.
The two day conference covered all levels of use, from photographers, surveyors and hobbyists operating in very low level flight areas (below 550 ft), as well as operators, defence and communication applications occurring at high level altitudes (above 60,000 ft). While these systems are ready for use today, what is missing is the framework to support a safe and reliable network for RPAs supported by beyond visual line of sight, automated traffic monitoring (ATM) systems, detect and avoid algorithms, and possibly one day, truly autonomous vehicles.
AAUS president and RMIT academic, Dr Reece Clothier indicated that Australia has been a frontrunner in unmanned technology research and development since the early 2000s and he sees no reason why Australia should not be developing and deploying the largest advancements in unmanned technologies.
“The rate of regulation is no longer keeping pace with the rate of technology,” said Dr Clothier in his opening address.
“What we are really missing is the catalyst for adaption; the catalyst for this change. The regulatory frameworks, technologies and concepts—detect and avoid, automated traffic monitoring systems, and risk-based regulation—these are the catalysts that will result in a step-change for our aviation industry.”
“In five years I can see [RPAs] being the largest aviation sector in the world by number of vehicles.”
A keynote from Mark Skidmore, the director of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), indicated that CASA’s absolute number one priority is safety, however, he is dedicated to support rather than restrict unmanned aerial technologies. Skidmore also indicated that CASA does not have infinite resources nor are they the harbingers of all knowledge, so CASA will be encouraging ongoing participation between the regulators and operators of RPAs to support their uptake.
Skidmore said there are currently there are some 459 registered RPA operators in Australia, with that number expected to rise to over 600 by July 2016.
Skidmore also indicated that CASA’s proposed regulation changes—which will categorise vehicles by use and performance rather than weight—were not released in 2015 as expected, and are now expected for release by the end of 2016.
The resounding message of the conference was that an international collaborative framework is required to integrate RPAs into an enhanced aviation network covering both piloted and unpiloted aerial vehicles- all the while ensuring adequate safety, efficiency, accessibility and privacy for the maximum number of applications.