The UAV/UAS/RPAS training situation in Australia is still in its formal infancy, as it is globally, and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is working closely with industry to develop the training standards, syllabus and resources necessary for the industry to expand and grow professionally.
UAV/UAS/RPAS Pilot Training
Until late 2013, the only training stream open to prospective UAV Operators in Australia was via the traditional method under the original CASR101.295. The first part involves passing the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) theory exam. Whilst appropriate in terms of general aviation knowledge, the PPL theory course makes no mention of RPAS, and much of the PPL 'aircraft' theory can be irrelevant to modern RPAS Operators who predominantly use GPS navigation instead of radio-based navigation aids. The second part to this traditional training stream involves the RPAS manufacturer's practical flight training on the RPAS type you intend to operate yourself.
In late 2013 CASA approved a new RPAS training syllabus specific to RPAS in both theory and practical training content. The new syllabus is called a Remote Pilot Licence – Level 1 Visual Line Of Sight (RePL1). This is the modern equivalent of the original ‘UAV Controller Certificates’ and in time will replace these older certificates altogether.
RePL1 theory modules include basic aeronautical knowledge, meteorology, human factors, navigation & flight planning, as well as specific RPAS knowledge as well such as battery management. Theory components culminate in a written exam.
Practical components of the RePL1 course take students through basic flying skills to build core competencies & confidence. Practical flight training includes pre-flight checks, standard flight operations procedures and emergency procedures. A final flight operations assessment will put student pilots through all facets of RPAS operations, demonstrating piloting competency in all orientations of the RPAS.
Because this syllabus is still relatively new there are only around 40 CASA certified RPAS training schools at present, but more are being certified by CASA each month and are able to deliver the RePL1 training course on various RPAS types and weight classes.
RPAS 'Type Training'
If you do your training via the traditional stream you will normally conduct your practical flight training with the manufacturer of the RPAS you intend to operate, or their local agent. If this is the case, just ensure the RPAS manufacturer is CASA approved to deliver practical flight training.
If you sit an RePL1 course this will be with a CASA certified RPAS training organization who will hold a UOC or ReOC specifically for Training. You will do your practical flight training on the RPAS supplied in that course and this will usually be the same (or similar) type of RPAS you intend to operate yourself later.
But what if you normally fly (say) fixed-wing RPAS, but a job with a new UAV Operator now means you need to fly Multicopter type RPAS? (or vice-versa) No problem, you can do what is called a ‘Type Training’ course. Type Training involves a course of learning only on the new ‘Type’ of RPAS you wish to fly.
Type Training is also the option for [manned] aviation qualified pilots, who don't need to sit the same general aviation theory components again, only the practical components specific to RPAS.
Many CASA certified UAV Operators are also the agent for RPAS manufacturers and have CASA approval to deliver ‘Type Training’. The CASA UAV Operators certified to deliver either 'Type Training' or RePL1 training, are listed on the CASA website here: http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_100959
What should I be looking for in a training organization?
The first thing you should be checking for in a UAV/UAS/RPAS training organization is whether or not they are CASA certified or approved to deliver any aviation training at all.
Be aware there are 2 different streams to becoming qualified on UAVs/UAS/RPAS and both streams are quite different in what is taught. (and what isn’t) A 'PPL' based training course is typically heavy on general aviation theory & manned aircraft, and lighter on the practical RPAS training. The RePL1 training course on the other hand is very specific to RPAS and more evenly balanced in both theory & practical content.
It is important you ask to see written evidence of CASA certification or approval to deliver all aspects of any UAV/UAS/RPAS courses on offer. Both Theory & Practical course content must be approved by CASA.
Some businesses will give every appearance of having CASA approval, even using language that is loaded with all the right aviation jargon, but when you read it again more closely the business doesn’t actually have any approval at all, it’s just very craftily worded to sound like they do.
Note there are some businesses which have legitimate CASA approval to deliver aviation theory courses at the (manned) PPL level, but may not have CASA approval to deliver any practical RPAS training. In the opposite vein, there are UAV/UAS/RPAS manufacturers who are CASA approved to deliver practical ‘Type Training’, but are not approved to deliver any theory courses.
Be aware there are also businesses springing-up offering a 'one-stop-shop' for everything and generally making the certification process look very complicated. These businesses offer to hold your hand through the training & certification process, even offering to write all your Manuals for you and do just about everything except pay for the CASA certificate. What they don’t tell you is that the CASA website today provides excellent information for new entrants to the industry, and CASA also publicly provides the templates for any manuals or documentation you need to produce.
You don't need to pay thousands of dollars for something that’s essentially already mapped-out and written for you, but if that is your choice, please be aware that some of these businesses may have never actually been through the certification process themselves, let alone know all there is to know about CASA certification & licencing.
ACUO wish to advise potential new entrants to the industry to exercise caution in who they accept their advice and assistance from. The best advice is to only seek assistance from those people, businesses or organizations who can provide written evidence of CASA certification or approval to deliver a specific UAV/UAS/RPAS service.
The one exception to this rule at present is RPAS Manufacturing. There is no ‘airworthiness’ certification for small UAVs/UAS/RPAS because there are no design standards, no certification standards and only existing manufacturing standards developed yet for small UAV/UAS/RPAS. As a result CASA is not in a position to approve or authorize small UAV/UAS/RPAS Manufacturers until manufacturing standards are developed.
The only aspect that CASA can approve with manufacturers at this time is the manufacturers practical ‘Type Training’, to customers of their own UA/RPA systems. This is not the same as RePL1 training unless the manufacturer has been certified by CASA to deliver RePL1 training and holds a UAV Operator Certificate (UOC) or a Remote Pilot Operator Certificate (ReOC) specifically for RPAS Training.
[RPAS manufacturing standards are in development between CASA and industry through the CASA Standards Consultative Committee.]