The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says it is “leading by example” by securing a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operator’s Certificate through Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The certificate, which was presented to Greg Hood, ATSB’s chief commissioner, and Derek Hoffmeister, transport safety investigation manager, last Friday, means the agency now has the necessary approvals to use drones to gather data and evidence during its on-site investigations. The drones, known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in Australia, can weigh up to 7 kg (roughly 15.4 lbs.) under the certificate.
Having passed a required flight test and interview, Hoffmeister has been granted chief remote pilot status by CASA. He is one of several transport safety investigators now qualified to fly the DJI Phantom 4, which has been assessed as most suitable for the ATSB’s drone operations.
The ATSB says it has already taken advantage of the approval: Late last Friday, it used its drone to capture investigative footage after a loaded coal train derailed between Oakey and Jondaryan in Queensland.
“The RPAS brings significant capability to our investigations,” states Hoffmeister. “Investigators are now able to undertake an initial site survey to check for safety hazards before entering the site, and we can perform site mapping more quickly and with more accurate measurements. Also, comprehensive photos of an entire accident site can help investigations enormously. We can capture that imagery ourselves using RPAS – imagery that could previously only be obtained with a helicopter.”
Hood says the agency has been monitoring the potential benefits of RPAS for a number of years; however, it was only recently that advances in technology made it a viable option for the ATSB.
“RPAS are now software-equipped and capable of high-fidelity resolution photography, enabling accident site safety assessment and site and debris mapping,” explains Hood.
“While the size of our RPAS is below the threshold for an operator’s certificate, we are ensuring that we operate under CASA’s regulatory framework in the safest possible manner by gaining the qualification,” he continues.
In turn, the agency says, people who are flying RPAS commercially should follow the lead of the ATSB and gain their remote pilot operator’s certificate.