Miners to see uplift from ‘world-first’ Civil Aviation Safety Authority change on drone use

Australia’s mining sector is poised to benefit from a change implemented by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which is touted as a ‘world-first’ move set to revolutionise drone use.

The resources sector is also slated to save at least $2.395 billion through to 2040 from the projected increase in uptake of drone technology.

CASA this week introduced a more accessible exam for pilots operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and outside controlled airspace (OCTA).

The new BVLOS exam replaces the instrument rating exam (IREX), which was originally designed for pilots of planes and helicopters. The catalyst for the change has been drone technology increasingly enabling operations outside standard conditions and many organisations want to realise the enormous benefits of BVLOS flights.

The new BVLOS exam will provide a more targeted evaluation of remote pilots’ skills and knowledge, in a sign of how regulators are recognising the rapidly developing technology.

The change is likely to open up opportunities for drones to boost productivity across Australia’s economy by billions of dollars with other sectors such as agriculture, construction, and emergency services to also benefit. It could also improve occupational health and safety in these and a range of other industries.

Uplifting the economy

According to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, the drone industry has the potential to increase Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $14.5 billion from 2020 to 2040.

This has been echoed in the latest Deloitte Access Economics report on drone use which also details the cost savings and productivity gains that can be made from the uptake of drone technology. Through to 2040, the mining industry will save at least $2.395 billion. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector will be another big winner with it expected to save an estimated $2.95 billion, with construction at $1.875 billion.

While drones are commonly used for entertainment and are perceived as devices of leisure, they have a range of business applications and are increasingly being adopted in many industries.

The BVLOS certification reform provides strong tailwinds for Australian companies at the vanguard of the drone industry, which are poised to take off as regulations catch up with technology.

Notable among those innovators are global player in BVLOS connectivity Elsight (ASX:ELS) and drone manufacturing frontrunner Carbonix. Elsight’s Halo platform for BVLOS led to the company securing a range of contracts with drone delivery companies across the globe including DroneUp, which in turn supports US retail giant Walmart’s home delivery service.

Elsight CEO Yoav Amitai says he welcomes the change and its recognition of the connection confidence provided by platforms such as Elsight’s 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. 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.”

Last month, Elsight announced a repeat Halo order from Censys Technologies Corporation, a US-based complete drone manufacturer and services provider. Censys builds remote sensing solutions for drone service providers, enterprise organisations and government entities. This order also supports the company’s focus on growing recurring revenue as the order consists of both upfront hardware revenue as well as recurring Elsight cloud services (AllSIght) revenues.

Another that could see a big lift in business is Global Drones Solutions, which provides CASA and Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) approved drone pilot training to some of Australia’s largest companies including BHP (ASX:BHP), Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG), Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO), Woodside (ASX:WDS), plus multinationals Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Shell (NYSE:SHEL).

“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”

Addressing the change by CASA, Global Drones Solution CEO Mahmood Hussein says: “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.”

Transformational change

Hussein says the change was the first of its kind across the globe and would transform the operations of resources and infrastructure companies, as well as utilities organisations, by providing significant improvements in their efficiency and effectiveness.

He witnesses the advantages drones can deliver through his Perth-based company’s collaborations with its resources clients, construction giants such as BGC and Multiplex, and other respected organisations like Pilbara Ports Authority, Fremantle Ports, and WA’s Water Corporation.

“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.

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

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

Expert Market Research (EMR) says the global drone data services sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of 37.3% during the period 2023-2028. The market is likely to be driven by applications of drone technology in aerial photography, shipping and delivery, disaster management, military, geographic mapping, precision agriculture, law enforcement and security, entertainment, among others.

EMR notes that inspections can be carried out relatively cheaply, safely, and faster in combination with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

“There has been increased interest in the mining industry in drone usage for routine operations. Applications include 3D mapping of mine surroundings, ore control, rock discontinuity mapping, post blast rock fragmentation measurement, and tailing stability monitoring, among others. Such applications are expected to boost the global drone data services market.”

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: Elsight Ltd & Supplied
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Managing Editor Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Adam has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.