Drone flight authorisations App-ening in Sydney Harbour…

Published:  22 November 2023


On 15 November 2023, CASA dropped a new Instrument, with the roll-off-the-tongue title: CASA 65/23 – Approval and Permission for Operation of RPA within Sydney Harbour Restricted Airspace R405A/B Instrument 2023, but don’t let that dissuade you from this forward thinking Instrument.

This is part of CASA trialling drone flight authorisations in restricted areas using the CASA-verified drone safety apps. 

Executive Summary

The CASA-approved drone apps will now facilitate airspace approvals around Sydney Harbour, under certain conditions.

Relevant Dates

It kicked off on 16 November 2023 until it’s automatically repealed on 15 November 2024. However, if a success, then it will either likely be replaced by a new Instrument, or even possibly added as more of a fixture to the Regulations.

Why is this Instrument Needed?

Airspace around Sydney Harbour is declared as a restricted area, technically titled R405A designated as “YMMM/R405A Sydney”; and R405B designated as “YMMM/R405B Sydney”. This means airspace authorisation is required before operating an RPA in this area.

What does the Instrument do?

It allows ReOC holders to get airspace authorisation through one of the CASA-verified drone safety apps – link here to a list of those apps – to operate an RPA in a specified operating area, which is broken up into 6 segments around Sydney Harbour.

The approvals themselves are not new, it’s rather the trialling of the CASA-verified apps to facilitate the authorisation that is the innovative part.

The approval then sets out 6 areas in a map and each of those areas below 500 feet AMSL is approved for the operation of RPA, the coordinates for which are specified in the file R405_23116.json dated 16 November 2023 on a CASA-verified drone safety app.

Once you obtain an airspace authorisation through the CASA-verified drone safety app in respect of R405A and R405B, you are permitted to operate the RPA in the specified approved areas.

What else should I know?

As always, there are so many strings attached to these that it feels like a tethered operation, but that’s just showbiz in aviation. Notable conditions – most of which are common sense or common place anyway – include:

(a) The pilot must have, or work for a ReOC holder that has, an airspace authorisation provided by a CASA-verified drone safety app, and comply with any operating limitations mentioned in the authorisation, which may include vertical limitations, time of day limitations, and expiry.

(b) The pilot may only operate an RPA in the designated operating area.

(c) The pilot may only conduct aerial work operations.

(d) The pilot must ensure that:

i. only one RPA is being controlled at a time; and

ii. a listening watch is maintained at all times on frequency 120.8 MHz, from 15 minutes before flight until the RPA has landed; and

iii. reliable mobile phone coverage exists in the operating area.

(e) The pilot must ensure that the RPA is equipped and operated with an active fail-safe mode that will ensure, in the event of a data link loss with the RPA, that the RPA will:

i. adjust altitude to the minimum safe level to provide obstacle clearance and minimum potential for collision with other aircraft; and

ii. transit to a pre-defined safe landing or flight termination area; and

iii. land or otherwise terminate the flight.

(f) The pilot must ensure that RPA operations are conducted in accordance with the RPA operator’s operations manual.

Finally, the Instrument has a disclaimer that the approval is an operational approval only. That is, it doesn’t cover you against any claims that any land owners may have, or in relation to any damage caused to anyone else or their property by the operation.

Closing remarks

It is certainly encouraging to see CASA lean into the technology for area approvals. Reducing the need for human intervention where the safety case suits will undoubtedly speed up the authorisation process and allow for the faster and smoother conduct of RPAS operations.

 Fly Free!

The Drone Lawyer

The lawyers in your corner of the sky

22 November 2023

Disclaimer: this article is for information purposes only, it is not advice in any form, and is no substitute for the source document it summarises which is accessible here.