The Australian air safety regulator has warned operators of unmanned aerial vehicles to obey the rules or risk prosecution and heavy penalties after a series of potential breaches including a drone flight at night over a busy Sydney street. A Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman confirmed that the regulator had examined videos posted on YouTube of a remotely piloted aircraft operating over Kings Cross while pedestrians and traffic passed underneath.
“CASA is in the process of establishing the identity of the operator and determining the extent of potential breaches of the regulations governing the operation of the remotely piloted aircraft,’’ a CASA spokesman said.
“CASA takes breaches of the safety regulations seriously and can, among other possible interventions, issue infringement notices where evidence of breaches exists. Serious contraventions of the safety legislation involving the use of RPAs can result in the referral of a matter for criminal prosecution and, in the event of a conviction, severe penalties can be imposed by a court.
“It is very important that approved remotely piloted aircraft operators respect the safety regulations so that the public is not put at risk.’’
The Australian has received several allegations about drone operators ignoring regulations, including one claim that a company used mislabelled batteries that would normally be banned from commercial flights.
A UAV industry player said the 200Wh lithium polymer batteries were labelled 99Wh to circumvent airport security and allow them to be carried as hand luggage on planes. For safety reasons, CASA limits the number of spare batteries between 100Wh and 160Wh that can be carried on planes to two and requires an airline to approve the carriage of hand luggage. Lithium batteries of more than 160Wh are not permitted.
The source, who has lodged a complaint with CASA, said the batteries were carried on a Qantas flight earlier this year and posed a risk to the safety of the aircraft and passengers. Qantas said it was unaware of such an incident.
The source pointed to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation report of an April 26 incident in which a Fiji Airways Melbourne-Nadi flight was cancelled after 19 undeclared lithium batteries in the checked luggage of a UAV operator overheated in the cargo hold.
Smoke from the batteries caused the flight crew to activate the aft cargo hold fire suppression system, shut down the auxiliary power unit and order an evacuation of the aircraft.
Industry body Australian Certified UAV Operators (ACUO) issued a notice to operators reminding them about dangerous goods regulations, including those covering lithium polymer batteries.
ACUO has also been urging CASA to enforce rules covering UAVs and has raised the issue with the federal government through the drones and privacy review as well as in submissions to CASA’s notice of proposed rule-making on remotely piloted aircraft.
ACUO secretary Brad Mason said there had been a problem with illegal and unauthorised UAV operations for about five years but noted the problem was not unique to Australia. He said ACUO fully supported action by CASA to investigate and resolve all illegal and unauthorised UAV activities.
“Illegal and unauthorised UAV operators pose a significant risk to aviation and public safety and we have been urging the regulator to take firmer action for some time,’’ he said. “The huge uptake of formal certification in the last 18 months — there are now 156 CASA certified UAV operators — is but one means of reining in errant UAV operations, but it is still a significant safety issue.
“Having said that, it isn’t something that CASA can contain alone, and we are encouraged to see CASA taking on board some of the recommendations made by this association.’’
Mr Mason said certified UAV operators were under intense CASA scrutiny to abide by the regulations, particularly in such a high-risk area as Sydney’s Kings Cross, no matter what time of day or night. He said a deliberate mislabelling of batteries to avoid scrutiny on passenger flights was “not only incredibly stupid but incredibly dangerous as well”.
ACUO fully supported CASA investigating such issues and prosecuting offenders where found.
“This most certainly isn’t something known to be common practice and we suspect, that if true, it is a lone rogue operator,’’ Mr Mason said.
Source: The Australian