by Bob Carpenter
AVIATION: is the practical aspect or art of aeronautics, being the design, development, production, operation and use of aircraft, especially heavier than air aircraft.
What is a drone?
Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), unmanned aerial systems (UAS), multirotors, quadcopters – all these are commonly called drones. Drone technology has saturated our lives. Concepts of drone delivery, drone public transport and many other innovative ideas have made the policy makers and regulators nervous.
Drones can be purchased anywhere – even in supermarkets – and with rapid advances in this technology, they are relatively easy to fly. This ease of use, low price point, popularity and the technology make the use of drones in schools an attractive proposition as a stand-alone program or part of a suite of STEM offerings for students to gain skills for the future. These are very positive outcomes for all – totally engaging, exciting, fast paced and innovative.
The biggest question if you are using drones in school is ‘Why?’
Drones are aircraft
The use of drones or, more technically correctly, remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in Australia is governed and regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and is covered by Federal laws (as defined in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 101) these safety laws for drones vary depending on whether you are flying commercially, educationally or recreationally.
CASA considers drones to be aircraft as they use the airspace the same as manned aircraft and helicopters. The regulations define the various sizes of drones by weight with the major difference being if a drone is above or below two kilograms.
Any time we are operating a drone outside it falls under the CASA regulations. So – are we flying toys or engaging in aviation? I would like to think we are aviators.
Drones in school
Where you are in Australia and what school system you work in dictates your students’ ability to access drones in the school environment.
Working in collaboration with universities, industry or alone, schools have developed design tasks where students design their own drones for specific purposes, using a variety of materials and machinery.
An example of an engaging program in which students design drones for a purpose is Outback Joe. Teams of high-school aged students are challenged to develop a system to drop a medical package to Outback Joe. https://uavchallenge.org/
Drone kits can be purchased on the internet but once the drone is built – then what? Often the next step is to compete in a challenge or a competition. These can be designed just for the group, class or school, or could be a local tournament, national event or even an international challenge.
The use of coding and drones is a great fit in the Digital Technology syllabus, especially as drones use GPS and even geofencing to control their actions and movements. There are boundless possibilities if teachers just put their minds to it.
Some schools have offered their students a Remote Pilot’s Course that leads to the attainment of a Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight).
Other schools use drones less formally – to take film footage, collect data for analysis (drones are great data collection platforms) or to fly obstacle courses.
Probably the best advice you can have about drones is from Brett Salakas (#AussieEd): “A lot of teachers are actually breaking those CASA regulations, so you have to be really smart about how you are using drones, especially if you’re going to advertise the fact that you’re doing them.”
Categories and training
There are three categories of drones:
• Commercial > 2Kg
• Commercial < 2Kg
Commercial > 2Kg
The Commercial >2kg category requires that all operators have carried out a formal training course to CASA standards, with a licensed training organisation, and have been issued a Remote Pilots License (RePL). The course of training is normally done over five days.
When you have qualified and have a RePL you may work for an organisation that holds an RPA Operators Certificate (ReOC). It is only then that you can operate commercially.
Commercial < 2Kg
On 29 September 2016 CASA introduced reduced entry requirements for people wanting to fly a very small (100g < 2kg) remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) commercially. Consequently, operations under 2kg (excluded) do not need an RPA operator’s certificate (ReOC), or a remote pilot licence (RePL).
Those operating in the excluded RPA category have to notify CASA at least five business days before their first commercial flight and agree to operate by the standard operating conditions and the guidance in CASA’s advisory circular (AC) 101-10.
It is your responsibility to abide by all of the regulations detailed in Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 101. Failure to do so could result in large fines and possible jail time. If you wish to operate outside these Standard Operating Conditions then you must hold an RePL and an ReOC.
The definition of Recreational flying is:
In relation to the flight of an unmanned aircraft, a flight activity only for the pleasure, leisure or enjoyment of the remote pilot.
Does your use of a drone in the school context meet this definition?
Use of airspace
The airspace in Australia is divided into sections with each different section or category of airspace being governed by different rules for the operation of drones. In the educational context, we must be flying in Class G airspace that has no restrictions.
Can I fly there?
The sky (airspace) over Australia is pretty vast and for most people, it is difficult to know what aircraft and/or helicopters might be operating in the areas where they wish to fly a drone. To that end, CASA has recently launched a downloadable app that will show you if you can fly your drone in your immediate location. You simply identify where you are or where you would like to fly, anywhere within Australia and the app will show if there are any restrictions on the use of drones.
The app is available on Android and iOS devices, with a web-based HTML5 version also accessible.
Batteries and safety
The drones we purchase or construct are normally powered by lithium polymer battery packs. We use these new technology batteries to provide longer flight times with smaller weight.
When using lithium batteries, we need to be aware of the safety precautions required.
Over the past few years there have been many instances of lithium batteries catching fire. A lithium battery fire generates its own oxygen and cannot be extinguished with fire extinguishers. There are now restrictions on the carriage of batteries on aircraft: https://www.casa.gov.au/standard-page/travelling-safely-batteries.
Lithium batteries need to be stored in a metal fire resistant cupboard that meets your system’s equipment safety regulations.
When charging lithium batteries, you should be using good quality charging systems that permit you to balance the battery during charging. These batteries should never be left unattended during charging.
When operating drones, you should be aware of the CASA Standard Operating Conditions:
• You must only fly during the day and keep your RPA within visual line-of sight (VLOS) – close enough to see, maintain orientation and achieve accurate flight and tracking. This means being able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through first-person-view (FPV)) at all times.
• You must not fly your RPA higher than 120 metres (400ft) above ground level (referenced to a point on the ground immediately below the RPA at any time during the flight).
• You must only fly your RPA during the daytime.
• You must keep your RPA at least 30 metres away from other people (that is any person who is not charged with duties essential to the safe operation of a remotely piloted aircraft).
• You must keep your RPA away from prohibited/restricted areas.
• You must not fly your RPA over any area where, in the event of a loss of control or failure, you create an unreasonable hazard to the safety of people and property on the ground (populous area).
• You must keep your RPA at least 5.5km away from an aerodrome with an operating control tower (controlled aerodromes).
• You must not fly your RPA over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway (without prior approval). This could include situations such as a traffic accident, police operations, a fire and associated firefighting efforts, and search and rescue.
• You can only fly one RPA at a time.
When using drones with our students we need to know how are we covered by insurance should there be a problem.
If you are using drones outside of the Standard Operating Conditions and you need to make an insurance claim it may well be refused.
We have been informed by insurance companies that they are reluctant to provide insurance unless the operator has undergone formal training and is the holder of a RePL working for an organisation that is the holder of a ReOC.
You would be well advised to check that you are covered before operating drones.
There is currently a Drone Safety Review underway. The outcomes of this review will not only take into account the numbers of drones sold, but also the number of drones that are being identified as contravening the regulations, with the end result being the regulation of safety in Australian airspace I expect that there are going to be changes to the regulatory environment.
This article has referred to the CASA regulations and the information available through the CASA websites. I would strongly recommend that you check these web sites and the CASA information made available to the public to ensure that you are up to date with any changes to the regulatory environment. https://www.casa.gov.au/aircraft/landing-page/flying-drones-australia
Robert (Bob) Carpenter OAM
Bob has been employed in the Military and Aviation fields since 1967. Bob joined the Royal Australian Air force as an Avionics Technician in 1967. Bob continued in the Military Aviation field following his discharge, providing training in relation to the flight, maintenance and aircrew operations of Hercules Aircraft for a number of international military customers and private companies in over 14 countries throughout the world, primarily in SE Asia. He retired in June of 2016 to undertake full time involvement with the One Giant Leap Australia group of companies.
Bob has been involved with Radio Control aircraft and systems since 1969. He was the first person to fly a Radio Control aircraft in Antarctica in 1981, was the initial test pilot for the University of Sydney UAV projects, and also was the Chief Instructor for Australia with MAAA for a number of years.