Australian resources industry to benefit from ‘world-first’ drone test overhaul

A ‘game-changing’ shift to Australian drone accessibility by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is set open up myriad fresh opportunities for drones to boost productivity in the country’s resources sector.

The CASA has reworked an exam for prospective pilots to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and outside controlled airspace (OCTA) aircraft, making the test more accessible for pilots and, subsequently, making drones more accessible for use across the nation.

The new BVLOS and OCTA exams are designed to provide a more targeted evaluation of remote pilots’ skills and knowledge. While less complex in nature, it will still cover safety-related topics including general drone and aeronautical knowledge, meteorology, airspace, human factors, navigation systems and communications.

Mahmood Hussein, the CEO of drone training specialist Global Drone Solutions, says the improved drone accessibility will ‘transform’ the operations of resources and infrastructure companies, vastly improving their efficiency and effectiveness.

“This will be massive for BVLOS operations in Australia because they have been restricted while authorities have worked to ensure the safety of the technology — after all, that’s their job.

But now, thanks to the connectivity confidence provided by companies like Elsight, CASA has opened the gates for BVLOS and the huge gains it can offer the Australian economy and communities.”

ASX-listed Elsight (ASX:ELS) touts itself as a ‘global leader’ BVLOS connectivity. The company’s flagship Halo product links unmanned vehicles with ground control through up to four long-term evolution (LTE) and 5G cellular links, as well as radio frequency and SatCom connections.

Elsight CEO Yoav Amitai says the CASA change is a recognition of the connection confidence provided by platforms like Halo.

“Elsight supports major customers in applications where seamless communication is vital.

These include healthcare and critical utility infrastructure survey provider Spright and, of course, DroneUp in the US, plus the Israeli police. Our clients rely on Halo to give them connectivity confidence that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Halo also has other services, such as remote ID, built-in so that drone manufacturers don’t have to go and find them elsewhere.

It’s really exciting to see that the potential of BVLOS can be better realised across a range of sectors in Australia and we look forward to being a part of that growth.”

Who stands to win?

While the CASA test changes certainly stand to benefit drone specialists like Elsight, increased drone accessibility will also impact resources and infrastructure companies, utilities organisations, construction businesses, and the agriculture and emergency services sectors.

Hussein says he has personally witnessed the ‘enormous’ advantages drones can deliver to companies in these industries.

“Mining companies use drones to survey stockpiles instead of this being done by a person on the ground inspecting vast piles of loose material.

Drones are also used to do condition reports on mining equipment and check for any issues, which is vital for their workers’ safety.

Occupational health and safety is one of the most compelling cases for utilising drones at mine sites and gas platforms.

They can be employed by OHS teams to assess incidents in remote locations, such as the bottom of a pit, which could be a 35-minute drive from the surface. Drones, on the other hand, can be flown to the location in a fraction of that time, providing aerial intelligence and enabling the team to offer a much better-informed response and assistance.

The changes to the BVLOS exam will open the floodgates for the expansion of all these uses.”

Yet, even without these changes, the Australian drone industry is poised for massive growth over the next two decades.

According to Deloitte Access Economics, the value of the Australian drone industry is expected to grow from $78 million in 2020 to $14.5 billion in 2040.

At the same time, an increased uptake of drones is set to save the mining industry some $2.4 billion through to 2040 and the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector nearly $3 billion.

The savings expand into the e-commerce and delivery sectors, anticipated to save just shy of $1.9 billion by 2040, and government services are expected to save $620 million in this time.

“It’s such an exciting industry to be involved in — we’re seeing a continual expansion in demand for our training as drones become less expensive and people see what they can offer their organisations. This certification change is now going to give a whole new impetus to Australia’s drone sector,” Hussein says.

Write to Joshua Smith at Mining.com.au

Images: Elsight Ltd
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Written By Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith has years of experience in the media sector, having worked as a markets reporter, features writer, and editor since completing a Communications and Journalism degree and a Creative Writing degree. Josh is an avid board game fan and a self-professed coffee snob.