Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Training

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, an embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

RPA Training Academy

If your ambition is to have a career change and you would like to venture into an exciting new industry or just have fun flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) your goal could be only 8-10 days away.

Thousands of small RPAS are currently flying in Australia. Millions throughout the world. 99.9% of the people flying those RPAS are not licensed.

The reason so many are not licensed is because Australia is the only country in the world that has aviation authority approved RPAS training where at the end you secure a CASA Remote Pilot Certificate (a Drone pilots license). The USA is at least 2 years away still from regulatory approvals for RPAS and Europe and Asia have similar timeframes.

At the moment there are only four CASA approved training facilities operating in Australia. There are a number of unscrupulous operators giving prospective RPAS pilots false hope and providing training that does not directly lead to the CASA Controllers Certificate, ultimately costs twice as much and takes many months to obtain. Do your research well! Check CASA approved trainers on the CASA website before starting your training.

CASA is introducing a regulation that will allow owners of RPAS below 2kg to fly within visual line of sight and below 400 feet. Most other nations will probably follow suit. This regulation is highly controversial within the professional RPAS community as its the unregulated users that are likely to bring down an aircraft whilst ‘just having fun’ and the RPAS commercial sector will suffer the consequences i.e. grounding, tighter rules, more training, more paperwork.

Most CASA approved RPAS training centers complete the live in training program within 8 to 10 days. The training typically involves approximately 4 days of aviation theory, 3 exams and simulator training where you learn to fly before taking the controls of a real Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Once you have mastered the simulator (which is very realistic) you then proceed to RPAS flight training which involves manual flying of either a multirotor or fixed wing RPAS and use of a Remote Pilot Station.

A minimum of 5 hours flight training is required and you will be the pilot in command (PIC) for the majority of those hours. You will learn procedures, systems, techniques, and new skills and above all have fun. At the end of the RPAS training course you will undertake a flight test.

The majority of aspiring RPAS pilots seem to go for multirotor qualifications due to the easy to learn, launch, fly, transport and serviceability characteristics of these devices. Multirotors are versatile and can also carry a variety of payloads to suit most situations.

Both fixed wing and multirotor Remote Pilot Stations (RPS) for RPAS offer mission control, standard aviation instruments, navigation capability and numerous fail-safes that trainees learn how to use and master during the training process.

Onboard autopilots, motors, props, batteries and aerial robot types are covered in detail in all training programs.

For those aspiring RPA Controllers that already hold a Private Pilots License you can bypass most of the theory training but the options are to either complete the approved RPA training program, to learn how to fly an RPAS, or undertake an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) course on a specific type of RPAS to secure your license.

As a guide most live in 8-10 day courses are around $5,500.00 which in most cases includes all costs – flight training, text books, theory, exams, radio license, English proficiency test, accommodation, food and all CASA related application and licensing costs.

To start the process of training the first thing you will need is an ARN (Aviation Reference Number) from CASA. This is free. You need to make application on the CASA website.

Once you have your Remote Pilot Certificate you have this license for life. Commercially, you most likely will fly using a variety of cameras/sensors or carry payloads for saving lives all within typically a 3-5 mile radius. I can almost guarantee you you won’t be delivering packages for Amazon or FedEx!

Other possible missions will include crop monitoring, search and rescue, fire monitoring or as a communications relay device.

Right now there are only 2-3 licensed RPA companies making big money in Australia. They have lucrative contacts with television companies or movie studios. This is where the money is at this point in time.

Other lucrative opportunities will come when governments start to use RPAS to save money. This is probably still 2-3 years away but it’s coming.

Next edition we will look at what is involved in building your own multirotor from scratch.

Kelvin Hutchinson is a Chief Flying Instructor in the aviation sector and has a wide range of RPAS operations including an RPAS Training Academy based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or on 0407733836 or visit RPA Training Academy’s website at www.rpas.net.au.

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