Australian drone legislation today

Australia is one of the most forward-thinking nations in regards to its drone laws, thanks to the decision makers the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. It one of the first countries to introduce legislation relating to drone operations, building a framework which is in successful use today. Many commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) drones that are sub-2kg have relaxed restrictions, which have allowed the business and opportunity of drones to grow in fascinating numbers.

The record in Australia, hasn’t been without drone-related problems. CASA has fought hard at this, releasing their ‘Can I Fly There’ safety app, and producing easy to understand content on the safety and potential issues surrounding drones.

In a move similar to seeking consultation, CASA has released a discussion paper to review Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) operations in Australia. Sweeping a net over all potentially affected parties, the paper targets drones, airports, local and state governments, and also requests feedback from the general public.

To view the document in its entirety, please visit this link.

All feedback is requested by the 22nd of September, via an online form.

What does the discussion paper cover?

  • Should all drones be registered?
  • Should all drone users be required to undertake training or assessments?
  • Should the introduction of geo-fencing be mandatory?
  • What should be done about ‘counter-drone’ technology?

Geo-Fencing & Counter-Drone tech

We’ll let everyone discuss the registration and assessment angles in the comments – for DroneSec, the geo-fencing and counter-drone tech is quite an important topic.

There is a large amount of research and events pointing towards the failure of geo-fencing – or the method of hard-coding ‘no fly-zones’ into drones. This is because it is usually software based, and any savvy operator can navigate into their drones to modify the GPS-no-go points. Further to that, each country is different and has its own ‘protected fly zones’. It would be quite a mission to ensure each drone sold online and in-store came with the same bulk GPS zoning built in.

This is where ‘counter-drone’ technology comes in – they provide the ‘no fly-zone’ with their own technology, in a defensive counter-measure against drones. Where a drone operator may modify or hack into his drone to disable geo-fences, counter-drone technology targets the drone externally, out of the operators control. This is usually achieved by detecting the type of drone, and then reacting to it. The most common methods of drone take-down are GPS and Wireless jamming of the link between the controller and the drone.

In Australia however, all drones are considered aircraft. It’s quite illegal to interfere with an aircraft, so even shooting one down that’s heading at you with a dangerous payload would be considered going against the law. Further to this, if your counter-drone technology simply stopped the drone in mid-air, and made it fall to the ground, it could be considered endangering the safety of people or property. So from that angle, you’re looking at detection only methods in Australia. As CASA put it oh so nicely:

Where counter-drone technology operates in such a way as to allow a person to override the operator’s control and assume control of an ‘offending’ drone, the person intervening in this way may effectively be operating the drone under circumstances in which their obligation to comply with the applicable regulations would be doubtful.

That’s the nice way of saying – currently you cannot stop a drone, no matter the reason as it contradicts current law. There are other reasons why counter-drone technology may deter the public from supporting it. Unless the technology operates under sub-1watt (for example, Department 13’s MESMER system), it is prone to disrupting existing wireless communications, such as wifi or internet-connected devices. In a world of pacemakers connected wirelessly, this could be a potential issue. With that in mind however, zoned technology that complies with wireless standards, and manages to pause drones mid-air or land them in a designated area may not be such a bad idea.

mesmer department13
MESMER uses sub-1watt protocol manipulation to ‘talk’ drones away from an area – pretending to be a controller.

Coupled with targeted payloads towards only the identified drone (think a slice of the spectrum), protocol manipulation and GPS-spoofed techniques may just have a better impact on our Australian society. Airports, police stations, and even convoys carrying VIPs may be significantly safer from air-borne threats with a carefully curated, reviewed and regulated counter-drone industry.

mesmer convoy drone
Located in the tray, some counter-drone systems (MESMER) can be portable and area-specific.

From DroneSec’s perspective, this is a brilliant outreach by CASA to gain feedback from each player in the commercial RPAS industry – the public, the operators, the infrastructure owners; each will have their say and play a part in forming the future of Australia’s drone operating conditions. With the business and commercial uses of drones readily taking off, it may be a good idea to match capability with targeted shock-resilience; reducing the restrictions on hobbyists/commercials while increasing the safety of potential drone-borne problems.

Got something to say? Questions or feedback about what was written? Shoot us an email at [email protected] and we’ll be in touch.

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