Australian Drone Laws

CASA reminds us that:

  • The privacy of other people should be respected by not flying near homes and backyards.
    • Never fly a drone in an active bushfire area as there is a real risk of a mid-air collision with a fire fighting aircraft, which could cause an accident. Fire fighting aircraft will be grounded if a drone is conducting unauthorised flights on a fire ground, hampering work to control the fire and putting people and property at risk.
    • Drones should also be kept away from police operations, accident scenes, building fires and rescue operations.

If you violate these rules, CASA can take action against you in the form of infringement notices (read: fines) up to $8500 per offence. If you put people at risk or seriously injure someone, the penalties are far more serious and will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

For example, a private drone operator was allegedly using a quadcopter above a marathon race. The drone reportedly failed and struck a woman in the head causing serious injury.

The CASA took the case before the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether or not criminal charges could be laid against the operator.


Commercial Drone Use

The CASA defines the commercial use of a drone as anything you’re doing for hire or reward. For example, if you’re a production company strapping a camera to a drone for the purposes of gathering footage, or if you’re flying something into the air to test it via a drone, that’s commercial use.

However, an amendment to legislation for commercial drone operation in Australia, means that as of 29 September 2016, small operators can conduct commercial work without an operator’s certificate or remote pilot license. If you have a drone under 2kg and want to do commercial work, you won’t have to apply for the $5,000 to $10,000 “Unmanned Aircraft Operators Certificate” in order to do so — but you will need to inform the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) with a once-off registration.

Operators also need to abide by “mandatory conditions” or risk penalties. The conditions include flying only in day 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.

Private landholders are also be allowed to carry out “a range of activities” on their own land without the need for approvals. This includes remotely piloted aircraft up to 25kg, as long as no money has changed hands for the flights.

The changes are designed to “cut red tape” without compromising on safety, CASA’s Director of Aviation Safety, Mark Skidmore said in a statement.

“While safety must always come first, CASA’s aim is to lighten the regulatory requirements where we can,” Mr Skidmore said. “The amended regulations recognise the different safety risks posed by different types of remotely piloted aircraft.

“People intending to utilise the new very small category of commercial operations should understand this can only be done if the standard operating conditions are strictly followed and CASA is notified.

“Penalties can apply if these conditions are not met.”