Historically, the word ‘drone” is associated as being an autonomously piloted military aircraft capable of carrying a lethal weapon, however the correct terminology and the multiple terms that are used for unmanned aerial vehicles appear to be evolving, however they all generally refer to the same concept.
In 2002 Casa (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) started off referring to drones as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Much of CASA’s documentation still refers to drones as being UAV’s. A UAV is predominantly defined as a “powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely. Important also is that the aircraft can be recoverable.
The term RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) is another common phrase for a drone that dates back pre-World War 1. In 1849, camera-equipped kites and balloons were used for both aerial photography and military reconnaissance.
In Australia CASA have recently announced amendments to Part 101 which came into effect on 29 September 2016. These changes include updates to certain terminology relevant to the flight operations of unmanned aircraft in order to better align with the International Civil Aviation Organization. In particular, the term UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) now becomes RPA (remotely piloted aircraft).
While some manufacturers, public organizations, and operators are all referring to some specific terms with slight differences from one to another, the terms Unmanned Aircraft (UA) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) are used to describe the aircraft itself, while the terms Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft System are generally used to describe the entire operating equipment including the aircraft, the control station from where the aircraft is operated and the wireless data link.
Regardless of the terminology that you use, whether it’s RPA, drone, UAV, RPAS or UAS, the recent changes bought in on the 29th of September 2016 were designed at reducing ‘red tape’ associated with certification, thereby making it simpler for operators using equipment categorized as low risk to get up and running in the industry. The changes also introduced categories of RPA known as included and excluded categories. Which category your Drone/RPAS falls into is determined by the weight and the risk, and this further determines what your licensing requirements will be.
The terminology around the licensing structure has also changed with the part 101 changes on the 29th of September. What was formally known as a UAV Controller Certificate, is now known as a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL). The second level of certification formally known as a UAV Operator Certificate, is now called a RPA Operator Certificate (ReOC).
CASA also introduced new weight categories with the changes to part 101. This is determined by the gross weight of the aircraft and the categories are listed below.
- very small (100g – <2kg)
- small (2 – <25kg) (where required with 7kg restriction)
- medium (25 – <150kg)
- large (>150kg).