Insights + Resources

November 27, 2019

Disruptive Skies: 10 Things You Need to Know about Australian Drone Law

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (‘CASA’) conservatively estimates that there are over 100,000 privately-owned drones in Australia. These increasingly popular devices are valuable pieces of technology with varied uses ranging from photography to delivery services. However, concerns have been raised regarding their potential to invade privacy and cause safety risks. Whilst Australian law has struggled to approach the regulation of drones, CASA introduced a series of regulations in 2016 which are still in development today.

As of October 2019, laws are soon set to change regarding drone registration and accreditation. Read on for 10 key tips to help you make the most of your drone, and avoid safety risks, hefty fines and even imprisonment.

1. Who is in charge of these drones?

CASA is Australia’s national aviation authority that regulates drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (‘UAV‘) in Australia through the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Cth) and the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998. Other Commonwealth and State legislation also places restrictions on how you can use your drone.

2. What are CASA’s Drone Safety Rules?

The Drone Safety Rules users must comply with include the following:

DO

DON’T

  • Fly during the day;
  • Keep your drone within visual line-of-sight;
  • Fly one drone at a time;
  • Land your drone as soon as it is safe to do so if you become aware of a manned aircraft flying towards your location;
  • Fly your drone no higher than 120 m above the ground.

 

  • Fly through cloud or fog;
  • Fly within 5.5 km of a major airport if your recreational drone is over 100 g;
  • Fly within 30 m people;
  • Fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway;
  • Fly over or above people in a populous area, including on beaches, parks, events or sport ovals with a game in progress.

New rules will soon require you to become accredited to demonstrate that you understand the Drone Safety Rules before flying your drone.

3. What other laws do I need to worry about when droning?

In addition to the CASA laws and regulations, drones intersect with criminal law, surveillance laws and laws regulating National Parks.

This means you should not :

  • Record persons without their consent: Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW);
  • Record persons in a private place or conducting a private act without their consent: Crimes Act 1900 (NSW);
  • Fly over private property. Deliberately or carelessly flying your drone over private property and directly interfering with the normal enjoyment of someone’s land may amount to trespass: Crimes Act 1900 (NSW);
  • Fly in National Parks unless you have submitted a Recreational Drone Use Application Form; you require approval from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to operate a drone in National Parks, as it can interfere with wildlife, visitors and fighting bushfires: National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW).

 The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) would usually not apply to domestic drone flyers, as only government agencies or entities earning over $3 million per year are subject to the Act. Additionally, there is no absolute right to privacy in Australia, as there is, for example, under the US Constitution.

 4. What do I get to run a business via a drone?

Currently, you need a remote pilot licence (‘RePL’) if you use your drone for commercial purposes (flying for hire or reward). A RePL is a licence that allows you to fly remotely piloted aircraft. To be licensed, you need to apply for an aviation reference number, complete the training and register your drone. These steps with more detail can be found here.

Currently, though, an exception applies if your drone is 2 kg or less or you are flying over your own land using a drone that is 25 kg or less. However, the regulations are set to change soon to require accreditation to fly drones commercially, even under the exceptions.

5. What if I use my drone recreationally?

 For the time being, you do not need a licence if you are flying a drone for recreational purposes. However, you do need a licence if you intend to fly in circumstances that require specialise training (e.g. outside the Drone Safety Rules).

6. Do I need a “pink slip” for my drone?

As of October 2019, you are not required to register your drone if it is under 2 kg or you are flying it over your own land.

However, these rules will soon change to require all drones used commercially and drones over 250 g used recreationally to be registered. Registration will be subject to a fee and will need to be renewed every 12 months.

7. Where can I or can’t I fly in Australia?

The easiest way to find out whether you are allowed to fly your drone over a particular area is by downloading CASA’s new “OpenSky” Drone safety application or simply browsing the web application. It will tell you that, for example, Sydney Harbour is a restricted area, meaning you cannot fly your drone there.

8. What happens if I breach the drone laws?

The heaviest fine you can receive for breaching Australia’s drone safety laws is $10,500 and imprisonment. If you are convicted of operating a drone that is hazardous to other aircraft, the maximum penalty may increase to $25,200 and up to two years in prison.

9. How has drone law been enforced?

In March 2018, a drone operator was fined $1,050 at an Ed Sheeran concert. People flying drones in the Sydney Harbour and at Melbourne’s Australian Open have also been fined.

 10. I have a concern regarding drone law. Who can I contact?

You can ask CASA any questions relating to drone use on +61 131 757.

As experts in disruptive laws and technology, feel free to contact us as well for any questions on your legal obligations involving drones.

Concluding Remarks

In the last few years, drones have begun carving their space into Australia’s regulatory and legal landscape. CASA is continually regulating how we can use our drones, so make sure you’re staying up to date with changes to ensure you’re flying your drone legally and safely.

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