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How to gain approval to fly commercial drones near a controlled aerodrome

A common occurrence when operating commercial drones is the need to operate within the vicinity of a controlled aerodrome. However, by law, drone operations within 3NM (nautical miles) of a controlled aerodrome are restricted and can result in fines.

Rest assured however, operation within these areas is not only possible, it is a regular occurrence. This article will explain how best to do this.

An aerodrome, also commonly known as an airport, is a designated area on land or water used for the take-off, landing, and movement of aircraft. By law, drone operations within 3NM (nautical miles) of a controlled aerodrome are restricted. This is almost 100km2 often of key job sites that are off limits to most drone pilots.

Mind you, there is a good reason for this. Like almost everything in aviation, it is about risk management. Controlled aerodromes are high traffic areas, and everyone operating is under the direction of the air traffic control, who are responsible for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the aerodrome.

Even though aircraft may be flying quite high near the edge of these areas, the consequence of a fly-away, or other mishap could result in a collision with an aircraft full of passengers, or the shutdown of the airspace while the situation is brought under control, costing millions of dollars.

Operating without approval in these areas can result in fines up to $37,901, jail or more.


How to fly commercial drones near an aerodrome


Let’s start with some clarifications

A controlled aerodrome is any aerodrome with an active control tower. Even if there is a control tower, if it is outside hours then the aerodrome is uncontrolled. This information can be found in a drone safety app, such as FlyFreely, or the Designated Airspace Handbook (DAH) published by Airservices Australia.

Because of the high risk nature, operations with 3NM of a controlled aerodrome require the operation to be flown under a Remote Operators Certificate (ReOC), with the operation conducted by Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) holder listed on the Schedule 1 of the ReOC. ReOC operations are conducted with more attention to risk, including equipment condition, pilot competency, as well as planning and risk mitigation of the specific operation.

You will also need an aviation radio and an aviation radio operators certificate (AROC).

The Manual Process

For most aerodromes the process for obtaining approval requires you to manually apply to CASA. The approval is typically valid for up to 12 months, but can take at least 28 days to be assessed and completed, so don’t leave it to the last minute.

You must complete a Form 101-09, where you’ll need to provide:

  • The ReOC details
  • Your details including ARN
  • RPA make model and MTOW
  • The type of authorisation you are seeking
  • The purpose and details of the operations
  • Details of the operation including time, location, height (AGL) or altitude (AMSL), and a flight plan including detailed coordinates of the area in which you plan to operate.
  • A risk assessment for the operation
  • A job safety assessment for any site hazards

Applications are assessed at an hourly rate, with simple applications costing at least $800.

Once approved, you can conduct the operations within the approved conditions and in accordance with the ReOC procedures, including verifying the JSA when onsite, making any required radio calls before and after flight operations, and keeping accurate records of the operation.

More information visit CASA’s application for flight authorisation 

How to fly commercial drones near an aerodrome

The Automated Process 

There is change afoot with a trial of automatic authorisations for some aerodromes. These approvals are free, instantaneous, and can be applied for up to 28 days ahead of time. You still need a ReOC, RePL, and AROC to apply and conduct operations.

Automated Airpsace Authorisations are available at Adelaide Airport (YPAD), Canberra Airport (YSCB), and Perth Airport (YPPH).

The trial is also being extended to include the restricted area R405A/B over Sydney Harbour. So stay tuned.

Reach out to see how FlyFreely can help automate this. 


Operating Drones/UAVs within 3NM of a controlled aerodrome is more complicated than operating in most other areas, however it is something that can be easily completed by a professional drone operator - if they follow the correct guidelines laid out in this article.  

If you are lucky enough to be operating near YPAD, YSCB, or YPPH then your path will be quite smooth. Nevertheless, always plan ahead, and give yourself plenty of time to prepare and apply.

If you would like to chat more, click here to reach out to the FlyFreely team

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