April 15, 2022
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Exemption for Upgrades to Type and Category of RPA

As part of the recent burst of legislative activity, CASA have provided exemptions for remote pilots to obtain the necessary experience to upgrade their licences to:

a.     medium sized RPA and;

b.     a different category of small or medium RPA.

The release of CASA EX38/21 – Obtaining Experience for Grant of RePL for Medium RPA, and for RePL Upgrade to Different Category of Small or Medium RPA – Exemption Instrument 2021 allows a more practical pathway for remote pilot licence (RePL) holders to gain experience in operating other remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in order to gain a licence upgrade for a different type of RPA or for a different category of RPA.

 Under Part 101 of the CASR, these upgrades could be achieved either through an approved training organisation or through a CASA flight test. Typically, for medium RPA, CASA flight testing is the most realistic option for certain RePL upgrades, but some of the can rules make it challenging for applicants to acquire enough operating experience with the relevant medium RPA to ensure that the flight test can be conducted safely.

Background

CASA must grant a RePL to an applicant if

·        the person has passed a relevant theory or knowledge examination (paragraph 101.295 (2) (a)), and

·        completed, a RePL training course (subparagraph 101.295 (2) (b) (i)) or a CASA flight test (subparagraph 101.295 (2) (b) (iii)), and

·        has at least 5 hours’ experience in operating an RPA under standard RPA operating conditions (paragraph 101.295 (2) (c)).

Standard RPA operating conditions (101.238) are designed to control the extent and scope of an RPA’s operation.

Owing to the limited numbers of approved training organisations that offer courses for medium RPA in particular, there are limited opportunities for a person to complete a training course as an alternative to completing a CASA flight test. Consequently, given the number of CASA offices across Australia, seeking a CASA flight test is often the most practical and preferred option. However, unless the applicant already has flying experience, a flight test may present some safety concerns, including to the CASA person conducting the flight test.

Under the licencing requirements, a person commits an offence if they operate an RPA and do not hold a relevant RePL. This requirement does not apply to the operation of an excluded RPA. That being said, a small RPA (with a gross weight of not more than 25 kg) is an excluded RPA if it is being operated in standard RPA operating conditions for the single purpose of gaining the required experience for a RePL. In this way, some opportunity to expand a remote pilot’s operating experience prior to attempting a flight test for a RePL for a small RPA is given.

However, this only applies for upgrades from a RePL for a very small RPA (gross weight of more than 250 g but not more than 2 kg) to a RePL for a small RPA, it does not apply to an upgrade from a RePL for a small RPA to a medium RPA (gross weight of more than 25 kg but not more than 150 kg). A medium RPA is not an excluded RPA –  preventing a person with a RePL for a small RPA from operating a medium RPA under standard RPA operating conditions to gain experience for a medium RPA flight test conducted by CASA.

The same problem crops up for remote pilots looking to upgrade to a different category of RPA. Although a small RPA is an excluded RPA if it is being operated in standard RPA operating conditions for the purpose of getting practical experience, this only applies to categories of RPA specified in the licence. The new category will obviously not be specified in the person’s RePL.

In addition, under the current regulations (101.270), a person commits an offence if they conduct operations using RPA without holding a certificate as an RPA operator (a ReOC holder) that authorises them to perform the operations. Again, the provision does not apply to excluded category RPA (small RPA, operated under standard conditions to gain experience) but the provision does apply to RePL upgrades to a medium RPA, or RePL upgrades to a different category of small or medium RPA.

The exemption instrument allows relevant operating experience for a type or category flight test to be obtained without committing an offence and without the need to be a ReOC holder.

The regulations do allow any RPA to be considered as an excluded RPA if it is being flown for the purpose receiving training from a ReOC holder authorised to conduct training in the relevant RPA. However, the ReOC holder’s Chief Remote Pilot must hold the applicable RePL rating for the relevant RPA (because of the competency requirements). Under the current rules, the only feasible way for this to occur is for the Chief Remote Pilot (CRP) to be assessed under a CASA flight test for the type or category of RPA, but the opportunity for the CRP to gain the flight experience required is still problematic.

The exemption instrument

A RePL holder for a small RPA who operates the same category of medium RPA is exempted from compliance with the experience part of the licencing requirement (requirements of sub regulation 101.252 (2)), but is subject to the condition that the RePL holder may operate the medium RPA only if all of the following requirements are met.

The operation must be:

a.     conducted under the standard RPA operating conditions;

b.     for the purpose of either (or both) of:

                           i.          meeting the experience requirement for the grant of a RePL for the same category of medium RPA (relevant RePL);

                          ii.          getting practical experience and gaining competency in the operation of the medium RPA for the grant of the relevant RePL;

c.      for the purposes of preparation to undertake a flight test conducted by CASA for the grant of the relevant RePL.

A RePL holder for a category of small or a medium RPA who operates a different category of small or medium RPA is also exempt from the experience part of the licencing requirement (requirements of sub regulation 101.252 (2)). The RePL holder may operate the different category of small or medium RPA but only if all of the following requirements are met.

The operation is:

a.     in a different category of small RPA or medium RPA that is of the same type of small RPA or medium RPA as is already included in the holder’s RePL;

b.     conducted under the standard RPA operating conditions

c.      for the purpose of either or both of the following:

                           i.          meeting the experience requirement for a RePL for a different category of small RPA or medium RPA (a RePL upgrade);

                          ii.          getting practical experience and gain competency in the operation of the small RPA or medium RPA for the RePL upgrade;

d.     for the purposes of preparation to undertake a flight test conducted by CASA a RePL upgrade.

 

The exemption also applies to ReOC holders for gaining experience for RePL upgrades to a medium RPA, or RePL upgrades to a different category of small or medium RPA.

The exemption instrument can be accessed from the Federal Register.

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