• Australia's unmanned aerial vehicle community is expected to grow dramatically in coming years.
    Australia's unmanned aerial vehicle community is expected to grow dramatically in coming years.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority has issued its 500th unmanned operators certificate, with CASA predicting there will be more than 600 by the end of the year.

CASA CEO and Director of Aviation Safety Mark Skidmore said this was just one more step in what is expected to be an exponential rise in the number of UAVs and Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in Australia over the next few years.

“It is estimated that by 2020 the unmanned sector will have grown by between 200 and 500 per cent,” he said. “It is clear unmanned aircraft technology and capability is changing fast and aviation safety regulators are going to have to develop new safety standards and regulations to keep up.”

Australian UAV operators have so far employed smaller UAVs in roles such as on-site inspection and maintenance in the mining industry, bushfire and law enforcement surveillance and disaster relief.

But with larger, more capable UAVs expected to enter the marketplace Australia is expected to follow the lead of nations such as Japan and the US in using rotary wing UAVs for tasks such as crop pest spraying, pipeline and powerline inspection and commercial aerial photography. The US military has operated an unmanned KMAX resupply helicopter in the field and has investigated a similar application for helicopters including the 33-tonne Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion.

Australian organisations are already finding new uses for the airborne technology. Western Australian helicopter operator Heliwest has used a small camera-equipped quadcopter UAV for mining equipment inspection in the Pilbara, while the Australian Antarctic Division employed a similar vehicle aboard the Aurora Australis Antarctic resupply ship to find the best way through pack ice.

Mark Skidmore believes that commercial UAV operation in Australia is an inevitability, with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority planning to ensure the required regulatory framework is in place.

“Key issues for the future will include the use of unmanned aircraft in aerial work tasks, complete integration into airspace, the carriage of cargo and eventually carrying people,” he said. “In addressing these issues we will need to fully understand the risks and how the safety regulations should address these risks.”

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