Looking into 2020 with 20/20 Vision: 7 Drone Industry Developments to Watch in the New Decade.

Published: 24 December 2019


First, we hope you had a successful and fulfilling 2019, are enjoying some down-time, and are reading this article from a hammock, deck chair or other leisurely place.

2019 has been a big year in the drone regulatory space, and 2020 is looking to double-down in respect of drone activity, as well as the implementation of further regulations and guidelines. Below are 7 developments that kicked-off in 2019 and are set to bloom (or bust) in 2020…

[1] Drone registration and pilot accreditation

In July 2019, the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations were amended to incorporate the introduction of drone pilot accreditation and drone registration. This comprised over 95 alterations to the Regulations. Just when we had wrapped our head around this round of regs, a second round of changes were released in October 2019. In short the changes are as follows:

(a) It is anticipated that Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) registration will come into effect between April and October 2020; whereas registration for Model Aircraft is expected to come into effect sometime between March and May 2022.

(b) In general, registration will apply to all RPA; and to Model Aircraft with gross weight of more than 250g. There are some rego exceptions including model aircraft operated indoors or at a Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)-approved model aircraft flying field.

(c) To be eligible to for accreditation, you need to be at least 16 years old, have completed an online course, and pass an online exam. You will not need to be accredited if you already have a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL).

We have written about the accreditation scheme in more detail here; and the registration scheme here; as well as the offences coming out of these new regulations here.

[2] Drone Traffic Management System

In July 2019, the Australian Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development issued Airservices (Australia’s air navigation services provider) with a ‘Statement of Expectations’ for the period 15 July 2019 to 30 June 2021 (Statement), which can be accessed here.

The Statement, amongst other things, expects Airservices to work with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to ensure the safe integration of drones into Australian airspace, including the development and implementation of a drone traffic management system.

What this means is that 2020 is likely to see some draft and proposed drone traffic management systems competing to be the system used. It seems that a ‘Highlander’ situation will prevail as “there can be only one”.

[3] Noise Regulations

In September 2019, the Australian Government, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (the Department) released an Issues Paper titled ‘Review of the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations – Remotely Piloted Aircraft’ (Review).

The Review considered the appropriate scope and breadth of future noise regulation for drones and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Aircraft.

The Department sought consultation and accepted submissions until 22 November 2019.  The Review attracted 92 submissions and the final report is to be completed by 31 December 2019 (although these deadlines tend to be more rubbery than a bouncy ball) meaning that 2020 is likely to be the year that we see the outcome of these noise reg proposals.

You can read a longer article we wrote about the Review available here.

[4] Beyond Visual Line of Sight / Extended Visual Line of Sight Operations

In April 2019, the Australian Government released the Part 101 Drone Manual of Standards (MOS).

Chapter 5 of the MOS prescribes the requirements for the grant of an approval by CASA for a person to operate a drone, other than a large drone (>150kg) Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) of the pilot; or the term used in the MOS: Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS).

The need for a Chapter on EVLOS drone operations is due to the blanket requirement that a drone must be operated within VLOS of the pilot.

EVLOS drone flights are going to be one of the keys to fulfilling the potential of drones. With a dozen or so operators in Australia having EVLOS approval, including the Google Wing drone delivery projects in Canberra and Brisbane, we are likely to see more EVLOS approvals in 2020.

Our summary of the EVLOS section of the MOS is available here; and a high-level summary of the entire MOS is available here.

[5] Drone ISO Standard

In November 2019, the International Organization for Standardization released ISO 21384-3, Unmanned aircraft systems – Part 3: Operational procedures i.e. a drone ISO!

The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organisations. Founded on 23 February 1947, the organization promotes worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards.

The drone ISO is the first International Standard for drones and specifies internationally agreed and accepted requirements for safe commercial operations. The ISO applies to all commercial drone use regardless of size, categorization, application or location and represents the international best practice for the safe operation of all commercial drones.

At 18-pages, it’s a high-level guidance document. As 2020 unfolds, we will see how the market responds and whether it becomes a necessity for safe ops or just a nice thing to have.

[6] Drone App Platform: CASA’s App Store…

In July 2019, CASA introduced the RPAS Digital Platform (Platform): a web-based digital software solution.

The aim of the Platform is to provide a central source of trusted data on drone-related advisories, rules and regulatory information. Third-party apps developed by industry that are approved by CASA can independently interface with the Platform to exchange data with CASA systems and other third-party applications to deliver a range of regulatory and operational information to drone users in Australia.

In November 2019, CASA released some materials on how software developers can apply to connect to its Drone Digital Platform. Our more detailed article on the Platform is available here

At present, the only app on the Platform is ‘OpenSky’. In 2020, we are likely to see some further apps being approved by CASA and available on the Platform. 

[7] Autonomous Drone Flights

Autonomy is another of the technologies that will take drones from the equivalent of ‘cottage industry’ to ‘factory‘ in terms of advancement.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which is a United Nations specalised agency, defines autonomous aircraft as: An unmanned aircraft that does not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight.

While the above definition refers to full autonomy, drone autonomy is better understood as a spectrum. One theory is that there are 5 levels of drone autonomy, from zero autonomy (fully manual piloting) through to full autonomy, where a drone uses Artificial Intelligence tools to plan the flight as an autonomous learning system.

Autonomous flights are happening right now in Australia by way of the Google Wing projects in Canberra and Brisbane.

In 2020, we can expect more autonomous flights. However, if you want to commence autonomous drone operations, or other complex drone operations, there are significant regulatory hurdles to jump. While not insurmountable, it will be a time-consuming, lengthy and relatively costly exercise, so be prepared.  A more detailed article on autonomous drone operations is available here


The above developments are both exciting and daunting as the technological and regulatory jigsaw puzzle is being put together. However, unlike most jigsaw puzzles, this is one where the complete picture is not on the front of the box. However, the remarkable thing about this period of time is that we – the industry – have the opportunity to contribute in deciding how that picture will look, while keeping in mind that it will be an ever-changing landscape.

Fly free!

The Drone Lawyer

24 December 2019