Australia’s new drone laws

New rules that cut the cost and red tape of operating very small commercial drones while protecting public safety took effect from 29 September 2016 in Australia.

People and organisations wanting to fly commercial drones with a maximum take-off weight of less than two kilograms no longer need to apply for a certificate and licence from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This means very small commercial drone operators can avoid the requirement to pay about $1400 in regulatory fees, as well as the need to develop manuals and other documentation.

There is however a requirement to complete an online notification process so CASA has the details of all under two kilogram commercial drone operators.

Operators must acknowledge they know and will follow the strict operating conditions and will comply with the Civil Aviation Act and regulations.  Penalties can be issued by CASA for breaches of the regulations.

The operating conditions for under two kilogram commercial drones include only flying during the day and in line of sight, no flying within 30 metres of people, no flying above 120 metres, no flying within 5.5 kilometres of a controlled airport and no flying over populous areas such as beaches, parks and sporting ovals. Drones must not be flown in an area near emergency operations such as firefighting, accidents or search and rescue. Anyone who wants to operate an under two kilogram commercial drone outside the standard operating conditions must apply to CASA for a remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate and a remote pilot licence.

The new rules also introduce a category for landholders which means drones up 25 kilograms can be operated without the need for CASA approvals. This can be done as long as the drone is only operated on the landholders or leaseholder’s own property and there is no remuneration. A report released by Liberty International Underwriters (LIU) earlier this year, said the changes are likely to impact the insurance industry and that the legislation will create opportunities.

“The volume of requests for insurance cover from existing clients is likely to increase, and the quality of the controls used for risk assessments is likely to be affected, since commercial operators of very small RPA will no longer need to obtain regulatory approvals as long as they adhere to the standard operating conditions.”