CHANGES to the regulations covering remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) systems, also known as drones, will make life easier for hobbyists, but the same may not be true for professional operators.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced in March a change to regulatory requirements for very small RPAs, those weighing less than 2 kilograms at take-off.

Commercial operators of these aircraft will no longer need to obtain a number of regulatory approvals, including an operator’s certificate and a remote pilot licence.

These operators will simply need to notify the Civil Aviation Safety Authority that they intend to use very small remotely piloted aircraft for commercial flights according to a set of standard operating conditions.

Regulations also changed private landholders using RPAs on their own land, enabling them to carry out a range of activities without the need for approvals.

In addition to the exemption for very small RPAs above, this exemption caters for remotely piloted aircraft between 2 kilograms and 25 kilograms in weight, but only where no money is paid for flights.

While the regulations will come into effect from 29 September, Piper Alderman partner James Lawrence told Oil & Gas Australia he did not think the use of small craft by energy companies would fall within this exemption.

“A licence would still be required because it would not be done for private purposes – but instead for hire or reward,” he said.

“In many of these cases the reality is in practice the site operator will engage a professional drone company… so where that is happening, you have got a commercial transaction.”

CASA director of aviation safety Mark Skidmore said the changes to the RPA regulations maintained appropriate safety standards while cutting red tape.

“The amended regulations recognise the different safety risks posed by different types of remotely piloted aircraft,” he said.

“People intending to utilise the new very small category of commercial operations should understand this can only be done if the standard operating conditions are strictly followed and CASA is notified.”

These mandatory conditions include flying only in day visual line of sight, keeping more than 30 metres away from other people, flying more than 5.5 kilometres from controlled aerodromes and not operating near emergency situations.

RPA must also not exceed 400 feet above ground level – meaning operators must be aware of valleys and other depressions.

Mr Lawrence said drone operators would still need to consider public liability insurance, noting a number of key underwriters now offered tailored insurance policies for RPAs.

Operators using separate drone companies to photograph their operations would also need to be aware of intellectual property issues, agreeing with the photographer about copyright over any photos taken.

Mr Lawrence will give a poster presentation on these issues at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference in Brisbane.