Interim guidelines on EPA use of unmanned aircraft

7 Nov 2017

These Interim guidelines on EPA use of unmanned aircraft (interim guidelines) address the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA’s) use of unmanned aircraft. The interim guidelines aim to strike the appropriate balance between safety, privacy and efficiency in the EPA’s work to protect the community and our environment.

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) specifically states that EPA authorised officers can use an unmanned vehicle, vessel or aircraft to carry out their functions.

‘Unmanned aircraft’ is a catch-all term that includes remotely piloted aircraft and other unmanned aircraft systems (for example, unmanned balloons or rockets). Unmanned aircraft are commonly referred to as ‘drones’.

Government agencies, particularly regulators, are increasingly using unmanned aircraft to carry out certain functions because they offer a range of potential benefits. Unmanned aircraft can capture a large amount of information, often for a fraction of the cost of doing so manually. They can access remote areas and can provide a safe and affordable option for gathering important information at the beginning of a difficult investigation.

Remotely piloted aircraft are the type of unmanned aircraft the EPA is most likely to use to carry out its functions.

Unmanned aircraft are a new and dynamic area of technology; their capabilities are constantly changing as the technology develops. Based on current technology, the EPA could use unmanned aircraft for aerial photos, volumetric surveys, measurements, mapping, heat sensing to detect invisible emissions, or air and water sampling.

These interim guidelines outline:
• the circumstances in which the EPA may consider using unmanned aircraft to collect information or assist with its regulatory functions
• the legal frameworks that regulate unmanned aircraft use, which the EPA will abide by
• how the EPA will conduct and manage unmanned aircraft activities
• the systems the EPA has in place to ensure its use of unmanned aircraft is transparent, accountable, and safe, with minimal impact on people’s privacy
• the circumstances in which the EPA may use unmanned aircraft to enter premises without owner or occupier knowledge.

There are risks to using unmanned aircraft. These can include risks to public safety, privacy and critical infrastructure. The EPA will identify, assess, and where appropriate, manage risks for any unmanned aircraft activities.
These interim guidelines address the steps the EPA has taken to manage these risks and ensure the EPA’s use of unmanned aircraft strikes the appropriate balance between safety, privacy and efficiency.

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