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Commercial Drone Regulations in Australia, the U.S., and Europe: the Basics You Need to Know

| 25.08.2021

As the drone industry grows around the world, various governing bodies have set out specific regulations regarding safe operation. Australia, the US, and Europe, for example, have developed guidelines to keep track of drones and monitor safe usage in their regions. Commercial drone pilots in each of these regions must register their drones with the appropriate governing authorities. In the case of the U.S., a pilot’s license or Part 107 certificate is required in addition to device registration. To put it simply, it can be confusing to keep up with the wide range of rules and regulations that commercial drone pilots need to follow. Read on to get to know the basics about commercial drone requirements for Australia, the U.S. and the EU. 

Drone flying over landfill

New Australian commercial drone registration regulations

In Australia, commercial drone operators saw new regulations put in place early in 2021 by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Now, to fly a drone under two kilograms for business, pilots require either an RPA operator accreditation or a Remote Pilot License (RePL), which can be obtained by taking the official course and assessment. However, flying a drone greater than two kilograms does require the RePL. Pilots with a valid RePL do not need to obtain the RPA operator accreditation.

The other significant update involves drone registry, which applies to all commercially flown drones, regardless of weight, that are used for common purposes, including surveying, aerial mapping, photo capture, and inspection of construction sites. 

Operators who fail to register risk facing significant fines. Luckily, the new registration regulation isn’t tough to comply with. Registration can be completed entirely online through the myCASA portal. For construction and survey teams who rely on a fleet of drones for their operations, it’s smart to apply for an organization ARN, or Aviation Reference Number. Upon approval, the organization ARN allows one person (a contractor or employee) to act on behalf of the business in myCASA.

Robust commercial drone regulations in the U.S.

The United States also has a robust certification system in place for commercial drone pilots. Commercial operators must hold a current Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and each drone must also be registered with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website

Additionally, anyone using drones for commercial use, including survey teams, photographers, and anyone else who makes money by flying a drone, need to comply with the FAA’s Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, which can be particularly troublesome for surveying teams and those who need to monitor construction sites, earthworks projects, landfills, quarries, and other large-scale sites. Survey teams need to keep the drone within the operator’s visual line-of-sight at all times, and they need to keep the drone below 400 feet in altitude at all times. At times, adhering to these regulations may be impractical, particularly when surveying large-scale sites that may have challenging topography, including deep excavations, tight spaces or other conditions that can be a danger for surveying teams to navigate. 

Luckily, the FAA can grant Part 107 waivers to individual surveyors or surveying teams, allowing them to bypass these requirements. Applicants must apply for Part 107 waivers, and they must include a full description of how they use their drone and how the pilot will comply with specific performance-based standards. Once approved, operators have much more flexibility in terms of how they can use their equipment. 

WingtraOne drone

New EU commercial drone standards replace confusion with cohesion

At the beginning of 2021, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) replaced each individual member’s existing laws relating to commercial operation, and drone operation in general, with a set of standards that apply to all drone operators. In addition to the 28 EU member states, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Norway also have adopted the new regulations. Under the new regulations, drone operation is classified in three separate categories—Open, Specific, and Certified.

Each classification corresponds to the level of risk involved when operating a drone. The Open classification carries the least amount of risk, followed by the Specific category, and finally the Certified category, which carries the highest amount of risk. The Open category is further split into three additional subcategories based on the class identification label and weight of the drone. Drone surveying operations generally fall under the Open A2 classification, which is generally seen as “low-risk.”

Survey teams whose operations fall under the low-risk Open A2 classification need to pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and individual operators need to register themselves. In higher risk situations, including flying at higher altitudes, around populated areas, or beyond the visual line-of-sight, the risk can increase and fall into the Specific category. In this case, pilots need to pass a Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA) to the appropriate aviation authority of the country in which they’re working. Keep in mind that EASA member states may have individual regulations that operators need to follow. 

Keeping up to date with drone regulations in various regions of the world can be a challenge for commercial operators, especially survey teams. It’s a must, though, if you want to avoid fines and even criminal liability in some cases. Know your rights, as well as the rights of those around you, and you’ll be able to safely navigate the skies no matter where you are in the world.

Looking for ways to upgrade your drone program? It may be time to check out what Propeller has to offer! Schedule a live demo with us to get the real scoop on all things drone surveying.

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