Drone Regulations and Data Quality in Quarry Applications

By on March 19, 2019

Ray Cox from Landair Surveys offers some advice and general regulatory observations for the use of drones in quarry applications.

This article has been condensed from a more comprehensive white paper by Landair Surveys available at;

www.landair.com.au/our-solutions/for-quarries

Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) – more commonly known as drones – have become increasingly useful in many aspects of quarry operations. The quick uptake of the technology has raised some key questions from quarry managers concerning regulations, safety and data quality.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is Australia’s national authority for aviation regulation and is responsible for the issue of drone licenses, approvals and ongoing enforcement of aviation laws. They have a very user-friendly website dedicated to drone advisory notes and regulations and can provide advice for drone operations.

Drones are defined in the regulations as any aircraft where the pilot is not on board the aircraft and controls the aircraft’s movements remotely. They are categorised by platform type (i.e. fixed-wing or multi-rotor) and weight class (the most common for quarry operations being the 2kg – 25kg weight class).

PHOTO: Multi Rotor.

Confusion arises as there are different regulations based on whether the flying is for commercial or recreation purposes; what type of drone weight-class is utilised; whether the operator is the landholder or not; and, where the drone activity takes place.

At the foundational level anyone who operates a drone must do so according to the CASA-defined Standard Operating Procedures. They cover important regulations relating to flying heights, prohibited flight locations, flying times and proximity to the public.

For commercial drone usage, as is the case for quarry operations, the key issue concerns what weight-class of drone will be used. For drones with a take-off weight less than 2kg, no license is required. However, CASA needs to be notified of the flight location at least five days before the first mission. For drones with a take-off weight greater than 2kg, the drone operator will need to possess a Remote Pilot License (RePL) and fly under an RPA Operator’s Certificate (ReOC). The ReOC specifies approved aerial operations as well as those legally responsible for the flights.

There is one key exemption for the license requirements for operating 2kg – 25kg drones known as the “landholder exemption”. If the operator of the drone fulfills a number of specific requirements relating to land ownership, drone use and remuneration, then flights may proceed without the needed for a RePL or ReOC. CASA will still need to be notified of the time and place of operations and all operations need to maintain CASA Standard Operating Procedures.

Risk management is also very important for drone operations. The most dangerous hazard is drone engine failure and subsequent free-fall. For example, a 3kg multi-rotor drone falling from 80m will reach a speed greater than 140km/hr on impact. Drone-specific JSAs or SWMS are useful tools in identifying and mitigating hazards.

PHOTO: Quarry Pit

The area of greatest ongoing concern in utilising drones, though, is obtaining useful final deliverables. Many quarry managers do not know how accurate any given drone data set is and often take for granted manufacturer specifications or software retailer claims as representative of all drone surveys. This is far from useful in that it gives a false sense of trust in data that can ultimately prove inaccurate.

Recently, for example, Landair received a request from a company about some drone data that needed confirmation. The mission was flown using a company employee enacting a pre-determined flight path. The processing was outsourced overseas, and the final data sets were specified to be accurate and aligned to the site coordinate system.

Volumes were then calculated from this data. It was subsequently discovered that this outsourced data set was inaccurate, in some cases metres away from its true real-world position. At the surface level, the orthoimage looked good as did the 3D triangle file, but the positional accuracy was sub-standard and the generated volumes incorrect.

If considering using drones for quarry applications the following questions are important to ask:

  • Can a drone be legally flown in the desired location?
    Consult the CASA drone website.
  • Would a traditional piloted-aircraft survey be better?
    It may be a surprise how economical a piloted-aircraft flyover is, especially for larger areas. If the price-points are similar, why not get the better data set?
  • Are the drone operators qualified, experienced and insured?
  • Has the drone operator completed the necessary pre-flight safety and regulatory steps?
  • Can the accuracy and quality of the final data set be independently verified?
  • What level of accountability is there for the provision of inaccurate data deliverables?
Photo: Quarry Conveyor

Drones are a useful tool especially for volume calculations, but like any technology they have their limitations. It pays to know the limitations and be across the regulatory framework and achievable final data accuracies.

About Gavin Moreira

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