Australian Drone Laws

Oh my we have landed in Australia! I am sat here drinking berocca (other vitamin drinks are available) as it was in the wonderful welcome pack given to us on landing here for World of Drones Congress.   Something that has been on the horizon for about ten months.  Can’t believe we have finally landed, I am here with Gemma Alcock from Skybound rescuer and we couldn’t be more excited. Both of us are speaking, meeting with people and I am running a creative drone masterclass on Wednesday!

Brisbane - Eagle St Pier & Citycat

 I thought I best find out a bit about Australian drone laws, because of course I have brought a drone with me and as I am here a while I will be flying. Also many of you have asked me about laws in other countries and yet I am not here to fly commercially I will want to fly. 

 I have connected with Tom Pils – AKA The Drone Lawyer here is a bit about him.

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Tom Pils- The Drone Lawyer

Tom has been building a practice exclusively in the area of drone law for the past 3 years. He has represented commercial drone operators in Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) investigations, advised on Applications for CASA Flight Authorisations (outside regulation approvals), and worked with insurance brokers on drone specific policies. Tom has a strong interest in drone regulation education. He regularly writes articles on legal aspects concerning drones which he publishes on his website thedronelawyer.com.au. Before focusing on drone law, Tom practised mainly in dispute resolution and litigation, as well as having extensive contract drafting & review experience. Tom’s broad range of experience serves his mission to empower drone operators through education, and to be the trusted advisor in their corner of the sky.

The Drone Lass & The Drone Lawyer: Q&A

Q. I am coming to Australia and want to bring my drone. Can I do this and what do I need to think about?

In general, drones can be brought into and flown in Australia. However, drones are quite heavily regulated and subject to a number of rules which vary depending on whether you intend to fly recreationally or commercially.

You must not operate your drone on a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property.

The majority of drones flown in Australia that weigh over 250 grams are subject to standard operating conditions, including:

= not to be flown within 3 nautical miles (approximately 5 kilometres) from a controlled aerodrome (generally defined as where there is an active air control tower). The rules aren’t as strict for uncontrolled aerodromes and generally speaking you can fly within 3 nautical miles of an uncontrolled aerodrome but must avoid approach and departure paths and land immediately if you see a manned aircraft.

= You’re not allowed to fly higher than 400 feet Above Ground Level.

= You need to be able to see your drone at all times when flying. That unfortunately also means you’re generally not allowed to use those awesome First Person View (FPV) immersive goggles.

= You aren’t allowed to fly at night.

= You are not allowed to fly in a ‘populous’ area. If you haven’t come across the word ‘populous’ before, join the club. Populous is of Latin origin meaning ‘people’. So…don’t fly over the people? Well, pretty much. In short, a populous area is an area where there are enough people around where if your drone malfunctions it would pose an unreasonable risk to life, safety or property of someone in the area not connected to your flying. CASA gives some examples of populous areas such as as festivals, sporting ovals, busy beaches, busy roads and footpaths.

= Stay on the lookout for others because you are not to fly within 30 metres of a person not directly associate with your flight.

= If the police or fire brigade are there, you probably shouldn’t be flying over it. This also goes for situations where any “other public safety or emergency operation is being conducted”. One risk is that there may be police or fire fighting helicopters and if you’re getting some sweet shots of the action with your drone, you may be preventing them from resolving the incident. Don’t go from checking the incident to being the incident.

Q. Where can I fly my drone in Australia and how to do work out where I can fly legally?

Ideally, you should check a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), which are notifications that alert pilots to any potential safety hazards along a flight route or in a specified location. They can also advise of changes to aeronautical facilities, services or procedures.

However, a less complicated (but also less formal) option is the ‘OpenSky’ app, which is endorsed by CASA. This shows a map of the area in which you want to fly and shows zones where drones cannot fly, can fly under conditions, or whether there are other obstacles.

It’s important to note that even where the app may seem to permit flights, you need to also consider all of the regulations as mentioned above. So, while helpful, the app is not the be all and end all. Also, the app’s terms of use state that you must continue to check official sources for information regarding whether and where you may fly your drone. Even if the app indicates that an area appears available for drone flight or free of restrictions, it does not guarantee, recommend, or endorse the safety or legality of your use of drones in that area. Also, the app states that it is advisory only, and is not to be used for the purpose of air navigation.

Finally, if you want to fly in a National Park, you should first check with the local authorities because sadly, some National Parks have restrictions on drones while others don’t allow drones to be flown at all.

Q. I have drone accreditation from another country. Will this be recognised in Australia?

While you could apply to CASA to have a foreign endorsement or licence recognised, CASA is unlikely to recognise this and to give you the equivalent certification in Australia. This is because the Australian Remote Pilot’s Licence is unique to Australia, its airspace and regulations.

red air
DJI Mavic Air

Q. Are there any differences depending on whether I want to fly for fun or commercially?

For commercial use, at present in Australia, if your drone has a gross weight less than 2 kg, then you can conduct commercial operations without a licence, however you need to notify CASA before you fly and must also operate within the standard operating conditions mentioned above. If your drone’s gross weight is over 2kg, then you also need to obtain a Remote Pilot Licence and operate under a Remote Pilot Operator’s Certificate.

For recreational use, you are generally allowed to fly a drone up to 25kg without a licence but must still follow the abovementioned conditions.

Q. Is there anything else I need to consider before flying my drone in Australia?

Australia is in the process of introducing mandatory drone registration and pilot accreditation.

All drones operated commercially will need to be registered. This is anticipated to be introduced in Australia before the end of 2019.

Most drones operated recreationally that weigh more than 250 grams will need to be registered. Drones flown recreationally indoors or flown exclusively flown at a CASA-verified model airfields will not need to be registered.

Accreditation will be mandatory which will involve watching an education video and passing an online quiz.

The Drone Lawyer can be contacted via website  and on Twitter @ausdronelawyer

Tom, Thank you so much this is really really helpful and once I am off on my travels around the rest of Australia I can’t wait to fly safely and responsibly and feel this gives me confidence in where I can fly whilst I am here.  

Happy Flying everyone 

The Drone Lass

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