Drone Zone

Learn More About Drones, Presented by our Partners at Surf Life Saving NSW

UAV Pilot flying a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) at the beach in Australia

Welcome to the Drone Zone! In this section of the newsletter, we’re pleased to bring you all things uncrewed aerial vehicles. What we’ve called the ‘Drone Zone’ is actually far from being a particular zone or separate from aviation; drones and advanced air mobility (AAM) are a proud part of the aviation industry, and we value and learn from the fantastic example that crewed aviation has set for us throughout history. In this column, we’ll bring everything drone (also called remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs)) related to one place, and keep you updated on the massive opportunities of this sector.

Recent announcements such as the selection of an uncrewed traffic management (UTM) provider for Airservices Australia (AsA), as well as AsA’s plans to deliver a digital aerodrome service purpose-built for Western Sydney International, as well as CASA’s RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system, or drone) and AAM Regulatory Roadmap are true indicators of the response by both the Australian service provider and regulator to the growing inclusion of these technologies in our lives.

UNSW, as a leading education provider in the aviation domain, has responded in line with these emerging aviation technologies, and has launched an innovative Bachelor of Aviation, majoring in RPAS degree. The key distinctive feature of the Bachelor of Aviation (RPAS) degree is the combination of competencies and skills across both traditional and emerging aviation, as well as aviation management and critical thinking. The BAv (RPAS) degree is designed to produce the professionals capable of leading the industry into what we believe will be an integrated world of aviation. Surf Life Saving NSW, through our department the Australian UAV Service (AUAVS) is very proud to be providing practical training components in the BAv (RPAS), delivering training in specific operational methods, such as extended visual line of sight, night operations, and beyond visual line of sight operations.

I’d like to share a quick history to bring you up to speed on Surf Life Saving NSW’s use of drones, and our current projects. In future columns, I’ll share more specific updates on these projects, as well as how we are preparing and actively contributing to this new piece of aviation.

In 2015, after a spate of shark attacks across northern NSW, NSW Government through the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) began trialling methods for shark mitigation and beachgoer risk mitigation, seeking to explore opportunities beyond the existing shark nets and helicopter patrols. As one of the trialled technologies, SLSNSW was chosen as a partner by DPI, and began trialling a very small amount of RPAS (8 or so) across locations. As the project advanced, it became clear that RPAS had a real potential to contribute to shark spotting, identification, and tracking, as well as scientific research. Investment by the Government throughout following seasons increased the amount of RPAS funded to operate at fixed sites in a seasonal outline across NSW, providing a network of solutions for the community, alongside technologies such as Smart Drumlines, shark tagging, VR4G buoys. Helicopter flights, which had traditionally been conducted as a twice a day coastal route, covering a vast array of beaches but also with a high potential to be impacted by weather, were replaced by the RPAS solution, which provided a locally provided surveillance, able to operate 2x 20min flights between 0900hrs and 1600hrs, and able to pause and resume surveillance in the instance of coastal showers or high winds.

In 2020, this service had grown to 34 fixed locations, providing a fixed location to every coastal council in NSW, a true border to border service. The current number of fixed sites is 50, operating various spring, summer, autumn, and winter service delivery periods (depending on temperate and visitation) by paid casual staff, and with the RPAS still left available at the Surf Life Saving Clubs for members to utilise flexibly outside of these periods.

In parallel, AUAVS continues to develop a Membership-based UAV Program, which provides 30 RPAS to our emergency response vehicles, enabling our members to fly RPAS at emergency response incidents outside of the fixed locations across the state.

Some of our current projects and innovations are listed below with a quick description, and I look forward to outlining these in more detail in coming columns:

  • Long Range UAV Project: Phase 1 of the Project aimed to safely trial multiple beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capable platforms with extensive range and endurance to examine their effectiveness for multi-use operations in public safety and emergency response.
  • Drone in a Box Testing: Drones in a box are a new innovation that provide a ‘drone hangar’ allowing drone landing, data transfer, monitoring, and charging to be automated, whilst flights are overseen remotely.
  • Provision of training to UNSW Bachelor of Aviation (RPAS): Proudly partnering with UNSW to provide training services, ensuring key commercial experience in practical flight applications is delivered to UNSW students.
  • Safety Management System implementation and investigations: A recent focus of AUAVS has focused on formalising our approach to safety management, which has previously been delivered on a more operational-focussed basis. This maturing has led to development of our flight incident/accident investigation process, allowing for remedial actions, recommendations, and continual improvement.
  • Lifesaver Drone Outreach Program: An important part of our community outreach, we deliver a 2.5hr session to schools as an incursion or hosted event, bringing drone technologies, coding, and careful learning about bias to 30 school students as a time, giving them real flying experience in a safe setting.
  • Australian Association for Uncrewed Systems membership and events: As the leading industry association, AAUS provides many opportunities to AUAVS to network, hear from leading experts in the RPAS industry, and share our story with others.
  • Search and Rescue: Responding to many critical emergencies across NSW with RPAS has led to our learning in this area to rapidly evolve, and we continue to learn quickly in this regard, especially with upgrading technologies and regulations.
  • NSW Floods 2022 RPAS Response: During the 2022 NSW floods, we were so proud to be able to deploy alongside NSW State Emergency Service to fly RPAS across NSW, across inland areas from Tamworth to Broken Hill. The longest period of our deployment was a 2 month continual deployment, providing 7 day a week RPAS teams in two 4WD vehicles, equipped with Starlink, generators, and our high capability aircraft, for data gathering, livestreaming, situational awareness, rapid damage impact assessments, impact monitoring, and recovery efforts.


Paul Hardy

Service Manager and Chief Remote Pilot, Australian UAV