Drone safety & drone laws

All countries have a national aviation authority, in charge of anything man-made that is airborne, apart from small kites and party balloons.  While each country makes their own drone laws there are discussions between individual countries and via the IATA (International Air Transport Association), so most have a similar height limit for drones plus other standards.

Holding freehold ownership of land does not give the owner the legal right to do whatever they like in the sky above it. In Australia the national aviation body is called the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Australia has one of the world’s best aviation safety reputations and it’s due to our strict laws and enforcement of them.

New drone owners often complain when they learn that drone pilots cannot just fly wherever and whenever they please. The bottom line is – would you want yourself or a family member to be hit by a falling drone, or be in an aircraft or vehicle that crashed due to a collision with a drone? Or see anybody’s eye gouged by a drone prop?  These things do happen.

A culture of illegal drone operation is flourishing on Australian farms and cattle stations and if this continues unabated:

  • It will be very surprising if CASA does not reinstate the ‘no drone licence, no drone flight’ rules for farm owners and employees.
  • Flying BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) and directly over people’s heads greatly increases the risk of a catastrophic accident. Why neither is allowed.

Many on farms have the attitude, ‘it’s just over our land, it won’t matter, they won’t know.’ But every time somebody flies a drone in a way that contravenes CASA’s rules they’re directly helping to foster a culture of unsafe practices; that could:

  • cause a serious accident
  • result in stringent licencing for farm drones
  • boost the damaging stereotype of rural Australians as a pack of uneducated rednecks
  • reduce the ability of licenced, responsible drone operators to get BVLOS permission

It is vital to obtain firsthand, current information on exactly what CASA’s laws are:

  • Straight from CASA’s website.
  • NOT from secondhand sources who may only know enough information to be dangerous or who may have outdated information.
  • DO NOT presume that because someone you know flies a drone in a particular way, that they are flying safely or legally.
  • As the saying goes ‘ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law’. IE the ostrich technique does not absolve anyone of responsibility or prevent fines or disastrous accidents.

Larger consumer drones purchased from Australian retailers come packed with a flyer which points towards CASA’s website (or NZ’s CAA)

Aviation laws are complex and constantly evolving. It is necessary to read documents in full and keep up-to-date. There are contradictory & potentially confusing elements to consider, such as:

  • whether drones are flown recreationally or for commercial purposes (which means anything to do with business – however simple, and/or for reward ([which includes in-kind recompense, not just flying for cash])
  • the weight of the drone (potential for damage to property or people)
  • how many motors & batteries it has (redundancy)
  • whether the drone pilot owns the land underneath it or not (& if not, who does. Eg local, state & federal governments have applied drone operation laws to some land they own)
  • what is being done with the drone – are other bodies involved in licencing (eg spraying chemicals on crops)
  • the class of airspace & proximity to aerodromes, helicopter landing sites, take-off & landing corridors (licencing may be required; and potentially, special permission as well)
  • etc.

Unless the attitude and behaviour of many drone operators on farms and stations changes, everyone living on farms and cattle stations is at risk of having to spend thousands of dollars studying for a drone licence in order to legally own and fly a drone over their land.  Please encourage all drone owners that you know to find out the laws that apply to their circumstances and abide by them.

If you fly a drone: you are a role model others may emulate. This means that your behaviour could indirectly cause an accident.

Should I get a drone licence?

An Australian drone pilot licence is called a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL). Most Australian drone licencing occurs in capital cities only, takes a week of study and costs more than $2,000. And it’s not easy to pass, especially for anyone unused to studying and exams (this includes me).  And holders of a RePL still have to fly under a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ReOC), either one they’ve obtained themselves (which costs another $2,000, approximately) or someone else’s – which means paying a fee, unless provided by an employer.

There are benefits in having a drone pilot licence:

  • Safer drone pilots and better role models (for children and others in rural and regional areas).
  • Able to obtain/cheaper/more comprehensive public liability insurance.
  • It’s a professional standard qualification and thus virtually essential for anyone using a drone for any kind of commercial purpose and for anyone involved in training other drone pilots.
  • Obtaining a licence now guards against potentially more expensive, time consuming or difficult licencing requirements that may be introduced in future. Globally, drone laws and licencing details are constantly being updated.
  • The training associated with obtaining a licence will make you a much better pilot.

The detailed pros and cons of drone licencing can be discussed in workshops so it becomes clear what suits your specific circumstances; and you know how to get your drone licence efficiently and cost effectively should you decide to go down this path.

Being such a large investment in time and money, it’s vital to get reliable information on whether it is a good idea for you.

Drone information blog posts

  • I’ve written a number of posts containing information I wish I could have found at the outset. The drone topics below are either not covered by anyone else at all, incompletely or inaccurately.
  • All the information in these posts is included in Rural Drone Academy training, to some degree, but with the addition of many other useful topics, entertaining examples, participant Q & A’s and networking.
  1. Rural Drone Academy workshops & training – want to lift your flying up to another level, solve some drone issues, or you need a hand to gets started? These workshops are useful for all skill levels, ages and backgrounds.
  2. Next workshops plus previous events – upcoming events you can attend. Previous events are also listed, which will give you an idea of the regions covered, themes and the diversity organisations hosting them.
  3. Comments from participants – forthright opinions from people who have attended drone sessions held in four states.
  4. The principles of drone safety & laws – essential reading for every drone pilot. Accompanied by impressive ‘fail’ stories, during Rural Drone Academy training. (Information on this page.)
  5. How to set up a drone business – how to steam ahead – use time, energy & money to maximum effect – and avoid pitfalls. Included in drone workshops in detail, if applicable to participant interests.
  6. What is the best drone to buy for a beginner?  Objective information to help you decide. The internet is full of drones that have hardly been flown because they didn’t suit the buyer’s purpose. Don’t join them!
  7. What is the best drone to buy? Comprehensive information on the most common consumer models to help drone pilots upgrading or seeking a drone for a specific task.
  8. Is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?  The pros and cons compared to using phones and tablets as screens, from an objective point of view.

If you are interested in attending Rural Drone Academy training don’t hesitate to contact me by email or ring the business-hours phone number listed below.

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.  This post was originally written in 2019 and last updated in May 2020.

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