What you need to know when flying a drone


Image taken on 14/06/2017 by Mathew Herbert, VUAS

Are you excited about the possibility of flying your own remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)? You may even have purchased a drone and flown it around on a football field or state park. Did you know that there are Civil Aviation Safety Authority rules that apply to flying drones? These rules have been in effect since 29th September, 2016. Basically, it is an offence to “operate an unmanned aircraft in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person or property.” The following information is available on the CASA website and every drone pilot should read and understand these regulations prior to flying their remotely piloted aircraft.

Private landowners and leaseholders, such as farmers, can carry out some operations on their own land with a remotely piloted aircraft less than 25kg without needing a Remote Pilot License or a RPA operator’s certificate. However, they must still follow the Standard Operating Conditions (listed below) and none of the parties involved can receive remuneration. Activities include aerial spotting, photography, spraying and carrying cargo. If the aircraft is over 25kg, but under 150kg, they can be flown under these conditions with a Remote Pilot’s License.

If you are flying a RPA under 2.0kg for commercial purposes, you need an Aviation Reference Number (ARN). Currently there are no age restrictions on obtaining an ARN, although you need to apply online and wait five days before flying.

The Standard Operating Conditions, as listed by CASA, are as follows:

Excluded RPAs, i.e. commercial, very small RPA operators and some private landowners, must follow the SOCs.

You must only fly during the day, not at night.

You must only fly by visual line of sight (VLOS)-close enough to see, maintain orientation and achieve accurate flight and tracking.

You must fly no higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level.

You must not fly any closer than 30 metres from other people.

You must not fly in a prohibited area or in a restricted area without the permission of the responsible authority.

You must not fly over populous areas, such as beaches, parks and sporting ovals. The risk to life, safety and property depends not only on the density of people and property in an area but also the flying height and the likelihood of injury or damage should something go wrong with the RPA.

You must not fly within 5.5 kilometres (3 nautical miles) of a controlled aerodrome-one with an operating control tower.

You must not fly in the area of a public safety operation without the approval of a person in charge of the emergency response. This includes situations such as a car crash or any police, firefighting or search and rescue operations.

You must only fly one RPA at a time.

If you wish to fly outside any of these conditions, you need to be licensed and/or certified by CASA. For example, licensed pilots may, subject to an air traffic control clearance, fly an RPA within 5.5 kilometres of a controlled aerodrome.

Read more about drones in the ASTA-produced magazine for Science Week “Drones, droids and robots”.

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