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Australia’s world-first drone pilot exam


The industry-transforming effects of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s long-awaited new drone pilot exam are already being felt with enquiries at one training provider quadrupling since CASA’s announcement late last month.

In a world-first move Australia has introduced a more accessible exam for pilots operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and outside controlled airspace (OCTA).

It’s a change that has the potential to save billions of dollars in productivity, as well as improving safety and cutting carbon emissions.

A company that’s seen a big lift in inquiries since the new exam was introduced late last month is Global Drones Solutions. Among its clients for CASA and Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) approved drone pilot training are organisations including Woodside, Rio Tinto, BHP and FMG, plus multinationals Chevron and Shell.

We’ve seen enquiries for our training and advice more than quadruple since the new BVLOS exam was introduced,” Global Drones Solution CEO Mahmood Hussein said.

There’s definitely a lot of interest, from individuals through to multinational firms.”

Mr Hussein said the change would transform the operations of resources and infrastructure companies, as well as utilities organisations

This will be massive for BVLOS operations in Australia because they have been restricted while authorities have worked to ensure the safety of the technology.

But now, thanks to the connectivity confidence provided by companies like Elsight, CASA has opened the gates for BVLOS and the huge gains it can offer the Australian economy and communities.”

Mr Hussein said sectors that were showing the most interest include resources, agriculture, construction and emergency services.

But, he said, realising the benefits of the change was not as simple as just sitting the new exam. BVLOS drone pilots must also have a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operator's Certificate (ReOC) and an Area Approval from CASA.

Certificate holders are also required to update their operational manuals.

Some of the updates that must be made to operational manuals include procedures for maintaining communication and control of the drone during the BVLOS operation. Among other procedures to be included are conducting risk assessments for BVLOS operations, maintaining privacy of individuals during operations, and how identification marks will be displayed on the drone.

A lot of companies are ramping up their training and we will be delivering our new course in early August,” Mr Hussein said.

We’re also doing a lot of work for industry as companies update their operational manuals. We help them to include the latest best practices and CASA-approved BVLOS procedures.”

Australian innovators to benefit

The new exam also provides impetus for Australian companies at the forefront of the drone industry.

Among those is global leader in BVLOS connectivity Elsight (ASX:ELS) and drone manufacturer Carbonix.

Elsight’s Halo platform for BVLOS has won the company contracts with leading drone delivery companies across the globe including DroneUp, which in turn supports US retail giant Walmart’s home delivery service.

Carbonix has just received its internationally recognised Basic Aviation Risk (BAR) Standards required for companies operating in the resources sector, as well as humanitarian, government and insurance organisations.

Elsight CEO Yoav Amitai said he welcomed the change and its recognition of the connection confidence provided by platforms such as Elsight’s Halo.

Elsight supports major customers in applications where seamless communication is vital,” Mr Amitai said. “These include healthcare and critical utility infrastructure survey provider Spright and of course DroneUp in the US, plus the Israeli police.

BVLOS can be better realised across a range of sectors in Australia, including the vital area of emergency services, and Elsight looks forward to being a part of that growth.”

2040 vision

The latest Deloitte Access Economics report on drone use forecast the value of the Australian industry would grow from $78 million in 2020 to $14.5 billion in 2040.

It also detailed the cost savings and productivity gains that can be made from the uptake of drone technology.

Through to 2040, the mining industry will save at least $2,395m. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector will be another big winner with its saving estimated at $2,950m, with construction at $1,875m. The e-commerce and delivery sector is set to benefit $1,875m, government services $620m and urban/regional air mobility $100m.

Evolutionary rule

The new BVLOS exam is an addition the IREX exam, which was originally designed for pilots of planes and helicopters, for pilots who want to fly drones within controlled airspace.

The catalyst for the change has been drone technology increasingly enabling operations outside standard conditions - and many organisations want to realise the enormous benefits of BVLOS flights.

In a sign of how drone regulations are recognising the rapidly developing technology, the new BVLOS exam will provide a more targeted evaluation of remote pilots’ skills and knowledge.

Mr Hussein, who is preparing to deliver the new certification next month, said while the new exam is less complex it still covers essential safety-related topics including general BVLOS and aeronautical knowledge, meteorology, airspace, human factors, navigation systems and communications.

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