Model aircraft and RPAS

Model aircraft and RPAS

Difference between RPAs and model aircraft

People have been flying model aircraft for many years. How are these different from the remotely piloted ‘drones’ we hear so much about?

From CASA’s perspective, the difference between RPA and model aircraft is that RPA are used for commercial, government or research purposes and model aircraft are flown just for fun – for sport and recreation.

In other words, CASA classifies your unmanned aircraft by what you do with it.


Model aircraft

You do not need formal piloting qualifications to operate a radio-controlled model. But … you do need to observe some rules (see below: ‘What’s allowed’).

It is illegal to fly a model aircraft for commercial hire and reward unless you have an unmanned operator’s certificate covering that type of operation.

If you want to join an association/club then there is the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA), which has about 11,000 model aircraft enthusiast members. The MAAA offers a ‘wings rating’ system (bronze, gold and instructor levels).


CASA’s thinking is that UAS pilots need general aviation knowledge in line with a private pilot’s licence, as well as specific unmanned aircraft skills.

To fly an RPA of any size for commercial reward you need an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) controller’s certificate and an unmanned operator’s certificate (UOC) for your business.

Additional ratings include a flight radio operator’s licence, and experience on the type of UAS operated.

What’s allowed?


  • Unmanned aircraft activities are approved for operations over unpopulated areas up to 400 feet AGL (above ground level) (120 metres), 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
  • Can be operated in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) and /or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) with appropriate approvals.

Model aircraft

  • You should only fly a model aircraft in visual line-of-sight, in day visual meteorological conditions (VMC). What does that mean?
    • no night flying
    • no flying in or through cloud or fog, and
    • you should be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through its point-of-view camera) at all times
  • You must not fly a model aircraft over populous areas such as beaches, other people’s backyards, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.
  • In controlled airspace, which covers most Australian cities, model aircraft must not be flown higher than 400 feet (120 metres)
  • You should not fly closer than 5.5km from an airfield.

Flying with control brochure

View the ‘Flying with control? – Get to know the rules’ brochure.


  • This can’t be true – 120 m altitude limit!?! What happened to RC airplane clubs (big gliders and RC jets) and model rocket clubs? Do they exist anymore?

    Mika Järvenpää Reply
    • Yes they do, and they get permission to fly above 400ft (120m). Hence why all model club fields are registered with CASA, and you sign up to be a member of the club etc. 🙂

      John Fleming Reply
  • Thank you very helpfull :]

    Bryan Meijer Reply

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