As the drone industry continues to grow exponentially in Australia, the number of sub-2kg excluded category continues to grow and expand with it. There are a number of benefits for the program instituted by CASA in September 2016, including reducing the barriers to entry, eliminating extraneous administration costs, and simplified workflow for small operators. Whilst this has allowed the industry to continue growing at a fast rate, what is not always present are the risks associated with operating under such a category.
Liability: Fully Licensed vs Excluded Category
As a fully licensed operator, with the pilot holding an RePL, and the company holding an ReOC, there is a clear set of guidelines that protect the business, legally. Operators and pilots alike are held accountable for the legal documentation (most notably, an Operations Manual) associated with their certification. As drones are considered an aircraft, they are subject to the damage by aircraft act, which states that legal liability binds directly to the owner. In the event of a liability claim, the business, as the owner of the aircraft, will be held liable, and the pilot, and individuals operating the business will be exposed to only limited liability.
As an individual operating under the sub-2kg category, however, the liability profile changes significantly. As there is no applicable operations manual or legal documentation mapping out the operations of the business, the individual pilot becomes the ‘legal’ owner and operator of the aircraft, and thus risk being strictly liable in the instance of a third-party liability claim.
Liability Insurance – Fully Licensed vs Excluded Category
The other key aspect to note is that fully licensed operators have complete access to the correct insurance. As discussed in our previous post here, being fully licensed allows you to gain access to drone-specific insurance – aviation third-party liability, as well as public liability for ground operations. This insurance is not currently available for excluded category operators, meaning that whilst also being strictly liable, individuals and businesses are unknowingly exposing themselves to a crippling liability loss. Whilst insurance is not the only component to consider when deciding between an ReOC and not, it is another key component to prudent business practice – and another reason to take the steps necessary to become properly certified.
Although not always immediately apparent, it is clear that operating under the sub-2kg category is not without its dangers. Despite its costs, obtaining an ReOC is a vital step in the process of setting up a compliant drone operation. Understanding that, knowing the regulatory and legislative environments, and seeing the benefits and requirements of obtaining an ReOC, is key to navigating your way through the drone industry, and setting your business up for success.
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