Queensland government to inject AU$1m into drone technology

The Queensland government has partnered with The Boeing Company to develop and test remotely piloted aircraft technologies for adoption by primary industries and the telecommunications sector.

The Queensland government has announced a AU$1 million investment in remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) technology, expected to benefit the LNG, agriculture, mining, energy, telecommunications, search and rescue, and environmental management industries.

In addition to the cash injection, the state government has partnered with aerospace giant The Boeing Company, in conjunction with Boeing subsidiary Insitu Pacific, Shell's QGC project, and Telstra to further the drone research.

Local small to medium-sized businesses specialising in related technology such as aerial photography, surveying, product development, and training for drone operators will also be consulted as part of the venture.

"The project aims to capitalise on the capabilities inherent in drones to carry out remote-monitoring and inspection of key infrastructure and data analysis to allow for better decision-making," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement.

In addition to creating 500 new jobs, Palaszczuk said she expects the technologies to be developed will include an improved airspace situational awareness prototype system that will enable the safe operation of RPAs over a broad area, as well as tools for enhanced data analytics.

As of September this year, commercial operators of "very small remotely piloted aircraft" will no longer be required to obtain a number of regulatory approvals to fly their unmanned vehicles under new regulations approved by the federal government in April.

Under the changes, the government also gave the directive to drop the terms "drone" and "unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV) and replace them with remotely piloted aircraft to align itself with International Civil Aviation Organization terminology.

The changes apply to RPA used in commercial operations weighing less than two kilograms maximum take-off weight.

Under the new rules, drone operators will need to notify Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) that they intend to fly their aircraft and adhere to a set of standard operating conditions, which include flying only during the day within a visual line of sight, below 120 metres; keeping more than 30 metres away from other people; flying more than 5.5 kilometres from controlled aerodromes; and not operating near emergency situations.

"While safety must always come first, CASA's aim is to lighten the regulatory requirements where we can," CASA director of Aviation Safety Mark Skidmore said previously. "The amended regulations recognise the different safety risks posed by different types of remotely piloted aircraft."

The investment from the Queensland government will be paid for out of the state's Advance Queensland kitty, which was handed an additional AU$225.2 million in the 2016-17 Budget.

The latest funding was split into four categories: Unlocking potential of business to innovate; growing our regions; harnessing existing strengths and fostering emerging opportunities; and building future generations.

Under the unlocking innovation banner, small businesses are slated to receive AU$22.7 million as part of the Advancing Small Business Queensland Strategy, and AU$10 million will be invested to develop new technologies for business, in areas such as Monday's drone announcement, as well as big data and the Internet of Things.

Palaszczuk first announced the state's Advance Queensland initiative in last year's budget with the total investment currently sitting in the ballpark of AU$405 million.