A guide to Drone Laws in Australia

Get in touch: 1800 770 780

How can we help?

With an increase in technological advancements, many new tech gadgets are becoming available to the wider public. Some of them, such as drones, really take off (pun intended), however the popularity of these devices mean that new aviation laws need to put in place to protect the pilots and public.

In late 2016, a man identified only as ‘Tim’ flew a drone to his local Bunnings Warehouse, attached a $10 and purchased a Bunnings sausage sizzle, only to fly it back without having to leave his house. This amusing drone-related antic was recorded and then uploaded to social media, where it quickly became a viral video.

However, in doing this Tim has opened himself up to a number of fines. Firstly according to the Civil Aviation Authority, it is illegal to fly closer than 30 meters to vehicles, boats, buildings or people over ‘populous’ areas (such as beaches or sports ovals). This includes the Bunnings car park, and the busy roadway that the drone flew over.

Secondly, in controlled airspace, which covers most Australian cities, you must not fly higher than 120 meters above the ground, which Tim did.

Finally, as Tim recorded his Bunnings sausage sizzle adventure and then subsequently sold the video rights to a ‘viral video company’, that means that technically it’s a commercial operation – which requires licensing for the pilot and registration for the drone. Tim could be looking at a fine close to $9000 for his trouble.

We have put together a run down of Australian Drone Laws in accordance with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) so you can avoid any hefty fines like Tim.

Do I need a licence to pilot my drone?

In Australia, it is very simple to determine whether or not you require a licence to fly your done. All that needs to be done is to define the intentions of the flight. For instance if you are looking to fly your drone just for fun, then you do not need to purchase a licence.

However, if the flight was for a company’s benefit (branding, advertising etc) or for photography or for footage to be sold, then the flight would be classified as commercial and would require an operator registered with CASA. This includes drones that are used for wedding photograph or videos, which would be sold to the couple, therefore making it a commercial operation.

Flying for fun

If your drone comes under the classifications of a very small remotely piloted aircraft (that is, one that weighs less than 2kgs) to avoid fines, you must operate your drone:

  • Within your visual line of sight
  • Below 400 ft
  • You must fly during the day, and not at night
  • The conditions during the day must be good; you may not pilot your drone into cloud or at night
  • You must make sure that you fly your drone more than 30m away from any spaces where it may interact or inconvenience the general public

It is also important to avoid piloting your drone in any of the following circumstances:

  • Do not fly over a populous area
  • Ensure that you do not come within 3 nautical miles of a controlled aerodrome
  • Do not fly into any restricted or prohibited areas
  • Do not fly over an area where an emergency service operation (fire, police, etc) is
  • being conducted without the approval of the person in charge of the operation.

Commercial Flying

Any flights for commercial gain (including uploading the video to YouTube, or the photos to Facebook) require certification of both the pilot flying the drone, and the business that is conducting the operation. The pilot must have a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Controller’s Certificate and the business must have a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operator’s Certificate. 

Line of Sight

It is important to remember to not get carried away with the video capabilities that are available on some of the newer drones, especially in regards to the CASA rules of having a line of sight on your drone at all times.

Many new drones are equipped with a First Person View setup, which allows users to fly using a camera. These models of drones are currently illegal under Australian Law (unless you are part of an approved model aircraft association) due to the fact that as soon as a drone leaves the eyesight of the operator, the flight is deemed unsafe

All of the regulations around flying drones are there to protect people, property and other aircraft. However, as drone use becomes more popular, and drones are given as toys or gifts, the legislation around piloting them will change and evolve.

At Owen Hodge Lawyers we are always interested in staying ahead of the curve in regards to recent technological legislation in Australia. If you’d like to talk to us about the current drone laws in Australia, or about any other legal matter you may have, don’t hesitate to contact us on 1800 770 780.

Just ask us a question

We are always ready to help you.