Drone wars & Laws
Drones are more popular than ever, but there are a few rules you need to know before taking to the skies.
So you didn’t get a drone at Christmas but the New Year sales might tempt you. If you are looking for the newly-released GoPro Karma, better scrub it off your list and put another one on. The Karma got recalled in November. Why? The Karma had a problem where the engines would occasionally stop mid-flight and then the drone would fall out of the sky.
This is a good reason to comply with one of the CASA rules for flying drones:
You must not fly over populous areas where (if your drone was to fail) it could hit someone. If it did hit someone, they could be severely injured and you could be liable for some hefty medical bills.
By this definition, a Bunnings car park would be considered a populous area. So if you are feeling both hungry and lazy, don’t send your drone to pick up a sausage. It’s been done before and the drone pilot may face a $9,000 fine. If you have missed the worldwide coverage and want to
check out what he did here: https://www.9news.com.au/national/2016/11/09/13/02/barbecue-drone-collection
The CASA rules are straightforward and are meant to separate drones from the risk of damaging people, to keep everyone safe. CASA calls drones ‘RPA’s or Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Basically the rules are:
- Only fly during the day
- Keep your RPA within line of sight
- You must keep your RPA 30m away from other people
- You must fly only one RPA at a time
- You must not fly higher than 120m or
400ft above ground level (AGL)
- You must not fly over populous areas
- You must not fly over or near where emergency operations are underway (fires, road accidents, etc)
- You must keep your RPA at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes
Pretty simple and common sense, really. If you have a drone that weighs less than two kilograms, then you don’t need a licence. If you want to make money from your videos or photos taken from the drone then you will need to apply for an ARN and notify CASA of the areas you plan to operate in (at least five days prior to flying).
This may sound a bit onerous but it can all be done online and is pretty simple. The benefit of this is that you can legally sell your video to the highest bidder or monetise it on YouTube. If you don’t register you could be fined.
It sounds a bit like CASA are the fun police; but if a drone crashed through the windscreen of a landing airliner, the fun would quickly disappear. There have already been some near misses between drones and aircraft.
Know the rules and fly by them.
Another point to consider is that landowners might also have some rules about flying over their land. Be aware of where you are and what might be close by. You don’t want to accidently fly over a military base… as ADF would not take too kindly to that.
An example of a landowner that requires drone operators to seek permission is National Parks in NSW where visitors who wish to use a drone must check with the park manager to find out if it is allowed.
Click here for more info
OK, you know the rules but how do you know if there is a ‘secret’ military base over the hill? There are a couple of mobile apps that will help by geolocating you and showing you whether it’s safe to fly.
Mobile apps to help identify airspace
All three apps listed show some inconsistencies with airspace and current rules for under 2kg drones. They are a good reference but they need to be used in conjunction with a current understanding of the rules. CASA has commissioned a new app to make it easier for us all (but it was not released at the time of writing).
Safe to Fly
An app that is simple to use showing you where you are and the surrounding airspace. It hasn’t been updated for a year and should only be used as a guide.
Drone Complier Personal
Meant for more commercial use with airspace diagrams that can be more complex showing restricted areas which may or may not be active. Good for keeping flight logs and for those more serious about flying RPAs.
This is a particularly interesting app as it will give you three levels of indication of whether it is OK to fly. The problem is that it doesn’t appear to have been updated for the current CASA rules.
Now for the fun bit – which drone should I get?
Go to any shopping centre or search online and there are a huge number of choices of drones for all budgets. The rule when shopping for drones is, generally, the more money you pay the better the product is.
The biggest player in the quality drone space is DJI which has been making excellent drones for a good few years now. There are lots of companies that are jumping on the drone bandwagon but if a big company like GoPro can’t get it right, chances are that lesser players won’t either.
DJI has lots of experience building a broad range of drones. The Phantom line is the most popular and well known, and comes in at less than two kilograms. The latest DJI Phantom 4 costs less than $2,000 but has excellent features and a great camera. It is easy and safe to fly as it has forward-facing collision sensors; and the electronics and control interface are excellent. DJI recently released the Phantom Pro – it has sensors all round which would make it the ‘least probable’ of crashing into anything.
The DJI Mavic Pro has much the same features as the Phantom 4 but in a much smaller package. It may not hit Australian retailers until early 2017… but it will be worth the wait.
Earlier Phantoms can be purchased below $900 and would be a good buy if you are wanting a solid proven performer. 3DR Solo drones looked to be a good product earlier in 2016, but the release of the Phantom 4 seemed to win more favour with buyers.
The GoPro Karma appeared to be a great drone until DJI announced the Mavic Pro a week later. Now that the Karma has been recalled, the Mavic Pro appears to be the drone everyone wants; and for good reason. There is a drone out there that will suit every want and budget. Now go forth and drone!