Flying a UAV? Want to know if it’s legal? CLICK HERE

Why Helitheory?

Helitheory has an extremely prestigious list of former students that have gone on to operate in the industry – our students have included members of the Australian Federal Police, videographers from the three main Australian commercial television networks and members of Yamaha Motors’ R-Max program, as well as manufacturers and photographers from leading companies such as Heliguy (amongst others). We recently learnt that two of our students have gone on to become the first two drone photographers for Getty Images worldwide!

Helitheory has an extremely extensive course designed and perfected over the last few years, in consultation with CASA. We are not some dodgy backyard operator but a leading light in the aviation theory field. We pride ourselves on demystifying the sometimes complex aviation environment and making it accessible for anybody willing to put in the effort. If you just want quick certification with no real grounding in what its like out there, look elsewhere. If you want to walk out of a course thinking like a pilot and understanding aviation, contact us.

Thanks to our affiliation with Flightcontroller Australia we can now suggest students for Remote Pilot Certificates, through Flightcontroller Australia. We strongly recommend this as the easiest and quickest way to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from CASA. Contact for more info!

Unmanned Aerial Systems – An Exciting New Field in Aviation

Unmanned aerial vehicles are a growing and exciting new field in aviation.

From simple camera platforms to complex agricultural spraying devices and beyond, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have arrived, and by the looks of things, are here to stay.

In order to fly a UAV for commercial purposes or conducting air work CASA currently requires that a prospective UAV operator be granted a UAS Operator’s Certificate, and also that the controller also have certification in the form of a UAS Controller’s Certificate or Remote Pilot Certificate.

 What is a ‘Commercial Purpose’?

So- what is a commercial purpose? Do you need a license to fly a remote control helicopter at the local football field? If not, why go through the pain of getting certification?

Have a look at this brochure, taken from the CASA website.

The answer lies in the words “commercial purpose”. You don’t need to get a license or certification to have some fun with an RC chopper. But as soon as money comes into it, suddenly you have an Unmanned Aerial System on your hands and if you don’t have the proper certification, you’re breaking the law.

Note: A commercial purpose does not have to directly involve money. This has changed slightly to encompass aerial work now, which is particularly pertinent to photographers.

You mayn’t be getting paid directly for the photos but if you are running a photography business, that’s air work. Most aerial photography is in fact classified as “air work” regardless if you are actually charging for the service.

Most of the people that contact us are aerial photographers. Any kind of aerial photography, spotting etc: that’s air work, you need a controllers AND and operator’s certificate, otherwise you are operating illegally.

Here’s a table, again taken from the CASA website, defining the difference between UAS aircraft and Model Aircraft. The difference is that to fly a UAS you need certification.

(CASA website link )

UAS aircraftModel aircraft
Flown for air work, including commercial operations, in activities such as:

aerial photography
law enforcement.
UAS are not for private or recreational use.
Flown for sport & recreation and education.

Illegal to fly a model aircraft for commercial ‘hire and reward’ unless you have an operator’s certificate for that approved operation type.
Requires Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) controller's certification and an operator’s certificate to fly.

UAS 'pilots' require general aviation knowledge in line with a private pilot’s licence, and specific Unmanned Aircraft (UA) skills.

Additional ratings include a flight radio operator’s licence, and experience on the type of UAS operated.
Currently no formal piloting qualifications required to operate a radio-controlled model.

However, the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA) offers a ‘wings rating’ system (bronze, gold and instructor levels), recognised nationwide.
Unmanned aircraft activities are approved for operations over unpopulated areas up to 400ft AGL (above ground level), or higher with special approvals.

Special approvals are also required for other areas.

Operations are not permitted in controlled airspace without CASA approval and coordination with Airservices Australia.
Model aircraft are flown at designated aero-modelling locations.

Insurance for model aircraft though the MAAA, and only applies if the model aircraft is flown at an approved site.
Can be operated in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) and /or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) with appropriate approvals.
Should only be operated in visual line-of-sight in day visual meteorological conditions (VMC)

The first step in being granted this certification would be to contact casa from the list of contacts here.

Obtaining a controller’s certificate

The following requirements are set for obtaining a controller’s certificate:

  • Completed a manufacturer’s training course including flight training
  • Achieved a pass in the PPL theory exam, either helicopter or aeroplane, depending on the type of aircraft flown
  • Awarded a Aircraft Radiotelephone Operator’s Certificate (AROC)
  • Achieved a pass, or been granted an exemption – where the aircraft is to be operated in visual line of sight “VLOS” operations only, in the I-REX instrument rating theory examination
  • Completed and logged at least 5 hours flying on the type of aircraft to be flown
  • For information on the PPL subjects, click here

Helitheory can help you with the theory components of a controller’s certificate – we have trained students who started with absolutely no knowledge of helicopters and are now working in the field as commercial UAV operators. We also have affiliation with companies such as Flightcontroller and Rise Above Aerials who can help you with the other components of RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) training.

Remote Pilot Certificates

CASA has now approved what is known as a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is in effect the same as a Controller’s Certificate. It is again essentially a pilot’s certificate. The difference, besides the name, is the type of training you undergo to achieve the certificate. The remote pilot’s certificate courses, if approved by CASA, have been designed with RPAS in mind and so remove the elements of manned-aircraft training which you may find irrelevant to unmanned operations, or hard to understand. If you have no aviation background, we recommend considering a remote pilot certificate over a controller’s certificate.

Note that we at Helitheory do not provide RPC’s but we do strongly recommend Flightcontroller Australia. Their course is extremely thorough and we know because we helped to design the theory component of their course. It is probably the first course in Australia designed with a genuine understanding of rotary-wing aerodynamics and we were very very impressed with their course, as apparently was CASA when it came time to do Flightcontroller’s RPC course approval. Contact for more information.

RPC or CC?!? 

Well, there are two options now, which do you choose? Personally I would suggest that if you are completely green in aviation and don’t have any desire to become a helicopter pilot in future, you should do an RPC course. Yes, we are telling you to look at another company – the thing is that over the years of doing UAV training, we have found that PPL course graduates do not really have a good grasp of what it takes to operate in the RPAS environment. We at Helitheory rectify that when it comes time to do the AROC training (A requirement for both a remote pilot certificate and a controller’s certificate) which is a UAV student-specific training day. But Helitheory is a helicopter training company and our course is designed for helicopter pilots wishing to pass their Helicopter PPL theory examination. It takes 2-3 weeks of intensive training because as you can probably imagine, it is for pilots of manned helicopters – it definitely is not easy!

Now, if you a) hold a pilot’s licence

b) think you want to maybe fly helicopters in the future


c) are interested in helicopter theory

Then the controller’s certificate is for you – please send us an email and we will organise you to sit one of our upcoming courses!

We can also arrange trial introductory flights in a helicopter at a reduced rate thanks to our many affiliations in the helicopter industry. If you are used to flying RC heli’s, come and give a real one a go!!!!

Note that either way, RPC or CC, if you are going to operate your own business, that business needs a UOC (Unmanned Operator’s Certificate) as discussed in the FAQ section. Yes, we can help you with that as we have helped many students in the past.

 In Summary

We are keeping a close eye on new developments in the unmanned and remote pilot industry and are very excited about what this burgeoning new area will bring. Just take a look at some of these videos-

Exciting times indeed.

As well as the pass in the PPL theory exam, you also need to obtain an Aircraft Radiotelephone Certificate of Proficiency- Helitheory can help you achieve that, too- If you love RC Helicopters, and are interested in turning your hobby into a career, contact us and be one step closer to obtaining your UAV operator’s certificate!

FAQ – What are the employment opportunities in the field?

The UAV sector is rapidly growing. With the proliferation of new tech, we now field UAV enquiries at least once a week. I anticipate that although it is a niche sector, it will not be an uncrowded market – a lot of hobbyists are looking to turn their passion into a profession.

That is not to discourage you, though. The field is growing all the time and getting in now can ensure that you are at the forefront of operations into the future.
The most obvious and common field is aerial photography, with stable UAV platforms available reasonably cheaply.
There are other applications though, the recent fires in Colorado used autonomous drones to map the fires. Yamaha’s R-Max is being used for agricultural spraying in Japan and Korea and is being certified in Australia as we speak. One thing is certain, UAVs are here to stay.
The main things that deter people from UAV operator’s certification is:
a) Cost – the machinery is probably the cheapest part of the whole equation. With a DJI S1000 or Mikrokopter as stable camera platform available for $5000 or thereabouts. You also have to add the costs of CASA admin – which they quote at about $3000 (down from $8k this time last year!!). A PPL course with us will set you back about $3300 (plus CASA fees), and I wouldn’t even want to quote to you the cost of public liability insurance. An RPC course will cost you a bit more but take a bit less time, I believe (contact
b) Admin / paperwork – this puts off a lot of hobbyists. Aviation is a very paperwork and administration-heavy environment. The drawing up of an operator’s certificate is a long and potentially painful process, with reams of paperwork. Some hobbyists are surprised how much work it takes sitting behind a desk just to certify and fly an aircraft. But – you are no longer a hobbyist and have to stop thinking like one!! We can help you get an Operator’s Certificate from CASA.
c) Theory. This is where we come in, but the theory involved in learning about aviation and it’s niches and standards, as well as the skills involved, can be a very steep learning curve for aspiring UAV operators. We can of course help here – it is our stock-in-trade.
If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – you can shoot me an email at

FAQ – What is the difference between an operator and a controller?

An operator is like the aircraft company. For example, QANTAS is an aircraft operator.

A controller is like the pilot – that is, the person who holds the radio controller. A QANTAS captain is an aircraft controller.

If you think about it like that, the distinction becomes clear. That also holds some clue about which is harder to obtain – a controller’s certificate or an operator’s certificate!

There is a list of approved operators on the CASA website which you can browse.

Anyone operating a UAV for a commercial purpose without both holding a controller’s certificate and working under the auspices of an operator’s certificate, is breaking the law.

FAQ – What is a drone? Is a drone a UAV?

That depends on who you talk to. Some people consider that a true ‘drone’ has to be autonomous – ie not controlled by a human outsides programming parameters.

These days, however, the term ‘drone’ is becoming common shorthand for ‘UAV’ – that is, any remotely piloted aircraft. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think is a true ‘drone’ and what isn’t.

What kind of UAV should I buy?

This one is interesting. We actually recommend getting something like a DJI phantom to get used to flying RPAS aircraft. But we don’t recommend trying to go out and actually work using one. A larger machine like a DJI S900 with six rotors, or a DJI S1000 with eight rotors is probably the best way to ensure stability, flexibility and also redundancy in the case of an equipment malfunction. These things are definitely not toys, and you wouldn’t use a toy camera, so why use a toy UAV.

RPAS vs UAV vs UAS vs Drone

What’s in a name? All of the above essentially mean the same thing (besides ‘drone’ – see above). RPAS stands for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, UAV and UAS are slightly older terms now. All mean the same thing, essentially. Remotely controlled aircraft and their affiliated systems.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask:

All the best, and good luck!

Alex Grivas

Chief Instructor

Helitheory Australia