What is a drone, and how are they regulated?

Generally speaking, if you are reading this article, the chances of you having a $ 50 palm-sized, eBay special toy grade drone is low, that you are probably considering buying or already have a hobby-grade or professional photography drone over $ 1000 with a camera designed for adults. If this is the case, it is important that you familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations of the operational limits of your drone, the cans and cannots.

A professional photography/ hobby-grade drone is a type of aircraft. Other names for drones are remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulates the use of drones under the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (cth) and the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (cth) (CASR). And The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW) (NPWS Act) regulates the use of drones in parks.

It is most likely that you would want to operate your drone in a park or national park to capture the beauty of nature that you cannot access on foot, then it is important for you to have a read of the NPWS Act to make sure your drone is airworthy, fly it safely, and follow CASA rules and regulations.

Objectives of the NPWS Act

This policy aims to:

  • guide NPWS use of drones in parks
  • provide clear guidelines for the recreational and commercial use of drones in parks
  • balance the commercial and recreational use of drones in parks with NPWS responsibilities to protect wildlife and to provide opportunities for the public appreciation and enjoyment of a park’s natural and cultural values.

How do I request approval to fly a drone for recreational purposes?

  • To seek approval, you may complete the application form and send it to the relevant NPWS Office for the park you intend to visit. Find the park in which you wish to fly a drone on the NPWS website and look for the park office contact details.
  • CASA-verified drone safety apps can also be used for online application and location checks.

CASA regulations for individual recreational drone operators

  • you must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres above ground level.
  • You must keep your drone at least 30 metres away from other people.
  • You must keep your drone within the visual line of sight. This means always being able to see the drone with your own eyes (rather than through a device, screen or goggles).
  • You must not fly over or above people or in a populous area. This could include beaches, parks, events, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.
  • Respect personal privacy. Don’t record or photograph people without their consent — this may breach other laws.
  • If your drone weighs more than 250 grams, you must fly at least 5.5 kilometres away from a controlled airport, which generally has a control tower at them.
  • Remember, you must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person or property.
  • You must only fly during the day, and you must not fly through clouds or fog.
  • You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway. This could include situations such as a car crash, police operations, a fire or firefighting efforts, or search and rescue.
  • If you’re near a helicopter landing site or a smaller airport without a control tower, you can fly your drone within 5.5 kilometres. If you become aware of manned aircraft nearby, you will have to manoeuvre away and land your drone as quickly and safely as possible.

Do I need a approval to fly a drone for commercial purposes?

  • Yes. Any commercial or business activity carried out in a park requires formal approval such as a lease, licence, permit or consent.
  • Commercial use of drones in parks often involves commercial filming and photography. The Filming and Photography Policy sets out the process for obtaining approval for this purpose. For other types of professional commercial use of drones in parks (e.g. survey or research), you can contact NPWS for guidance.
  • A commercial drone user may also need to be licenced (remote pilot licence) and certified by CASA and notify CASA before flying.
  • CASA guidelines must be checked to establish requirements for individual operations. It is the drone user’s responsibility to ensure that the drone is operated according to CASA regulations mentioned below.


Penalties for breaching rules

If you’re liable for a penalty, the CASA notifies you in writing and include:

  • the reason for the penalty
  • the amount of the penalty
  • the due date for payment (at least 30 days after we issue the infringement notice).

They can issue a fine of up to $1,110 per offence, and they can also restrict your accreditation, licence, certificate, or registration.

If you’re summoned to attend a court, you could be:

  • convicted of a crime
  • restricted from flying
  • fined up to $11,100.

If you interfere with a drone or your drone becomes a hazard to other aircraft, you can be:

  • fined up to $26,640
  • sent to jail for up to two years.

If you break the rules, we may:

  • educate – provide you with the drone safety rules to guide you in the right direction
  • counsel – provide formal advice or a warning about the offence
  • issue an infringement notice – impose fines and operating restrictions.

For serious offences or if you refuse to pay a fine, the CASA will refer your case to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and you may receive a summons to attend court.

Hope you find this Blog informative, to learn more legal tips than you will encounter, check out another one of our recent blogs.


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