Drone operators will soon face the same mandatory reporting requirements as traditional aircraft, as the ATSB introduces its biggest overhaul of reporting rules in nearly two decades.
The move was made in recognition of the growing prevalence of unmanned aerial devices in shared airspace and the rapidly changing nature of commercial aviation in light of drone technologies, according to a spokesperson for the ‘ATSB.
The new rules could see operators face serious repercussions, including lawsuits, if they do not report safety incidents to the ATSB, which will align reporting standards with the requirements of the aviation industry.
It comes after the security office reported a rapid increase in “close encounters” between traditional planes and drones as well as a number of high-profile incidents, including one of an unmanned device from 3 , 5 kilograms crashing through a high-rise window in Sydney, injuring a person inside.
It also comes as authorities grapple with the long-term problem of managing the increase in air traffic in Australian airspace, as drones begin to replace freight couriers, agricultural aviation and the possible emergence of UAV air taxis.
From September 30, 2021, the Transportation Safety Investigation Regulations Act, 2003 will be replaced by the new Transportation Safety Investigation Regulations Act, 2021.
The new regulations specify that operators of certain remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) will now be required to make safety and event reports to the ATSB in a timely manner.
Previously, operators were not formally required to report security incidents to ATSB.
Operators or other “responsible persons” deemed to have deliberately failed to comply with mandatory reporting requirements could be referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation and face prosecution.
According to the office, the new reporting requirements will allow it to better measure and assess security concerns and monitor trends in the operation of RPAs in the growing drone industry.
Under the new regulations, drones will be classified as RPA Type 1 or RPA Type 2.
Type 1 RPAs include drones certified to the relevant airworthiness standards (type certification), medium drones weighing more than 25 kilograms, and large drones weighing more than 150 kilograms.
Under the revised requirements, Type 1 operators will be required to immediately report to ATSB RPA occurrences involving:
- death or serious injury;
- loss of a separation standard with aircraft; and
- serious material damage.
During this time, less serious incidents and occurrences must be reported to ATSB within 72 hours.
Current business to report includes:
- any procedure to overcome an emergency;
- when the impact on the relief is narrowly avoided;
- events that cause difficulties in controlling the aircraft, including:
- aircraft system failure;
- meteorological phenomenon; and
- operation outside the approved flight envelope.
All other drones over 250 grams are considered RPA Type 2 and will have fewer reporting requirements.
This distinction is made on the basis that ATSB investigations are unlikely for these operations, unless there is a serious risk of harm to people or important property of others, the office said. .
Events involving type 2 RPA will generally only need to be reported immediately to ATSB if they result in death or serious injury.
Less serious accidents and damage to Type 2 RPAs will have to be reported within 72 hours, the ATSB said.
This includes severe property damage, loss of separation, missing aircraft, severely damaged aircraft or inaccessible aircraft.
Drones that do not fit into any of these RPA Type 1 or Type 2 fields have no mandatory reporting requirements under these new regulations.
“RPAs are an emerging form of commercial aviation that will benefit from investigations of systemic safety issues to help prevent future accidents,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“Recognizing the transportation safety issues associated with the operation of RPAs will be a welcome development and provide greater certainty for business operators and enthusiasts.
“For ATSB, this is an exciting opportunity to apply our advanced aviation safety investigative capabilities and improve safety outcomes in a growing field.
The ATSB pointed out to drone operators that reporting back to the office is not a tedious process, and the ATSB investigated incidents from a “no-fault” perspective, prioritizing improving safety results.