Drama-free drone zone
It’s the holidays, people are out and about - and some flying enthusiasts will have received drones for presents last month. But what are the rules surrounding these new inhabitants of our skies?
If you want to fly your drone for fun, you don't need permission from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), provided you follow the Authority's simple safety rules.
You must only fly your drone within your visual line of sight. That means being able to see the drone with your own eyes, rather than with the help of binoculars, telescope or other device.
You can only fly in visual meteorological conditions, which generally means no night flights, and where you can't see the drone during dark and stormy weather.
In most Australian cities, you can only fly your drone up to a maximum altitude of 120 metres. Any higher and you need CASA approval. You can only tell height flown on the more expensive drones thanks to their built-in telemetry via a display on the handset. Less expensive ones (up to $300) only have a flying height range of 100m limitation anyway, so it is self limiting thanks to the remote control transmitter.
Once in the air, you must keep your drone at least 30 metres from anyone not directly associated with its operation.
The drone must not be flown over populated areas, such as those that are sufficiently crowded that the drone would pose an unreasonable risk to life, safety or property. This includes crowded beaches, parks or sports ovals where a game is in progress.
There is a general prohibition on flying a drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person or property. A "hazard" may be interpreted fairly broadly.
Recreational drone users are also advised to respect personal privacy by not recording or taking photos of people without their consent.
A note of caution: While privacy concerns are not within CASA's authority, operators may find themselves in breach of state and territory privacy or trespass laws, depending on how and where the drone is flown, and whether audio, video or photographic footage is recorded.
As a general rule, drones cannot be flown for money or economic reward without a specific licence. There are, however, two new instances where such a certificate is not required: for commercial-like operations over your own land, and for commercial flights under two kilometres with very small drones, provided that the pilot notifies CASA at least five business days beforehand, and adheres to all the existing rules for recreational drone use.