Look Mum, I’m Flying!
A few years ago you needed to be an eagle, a pilot or Nathan Petrelli from Heroes to explore the world from above. Now, you just need as little as a few hundred dollar bills to get hold of a drone that will give you a bird’s eye view, literally, of all of your favourite spots. The world of photography has changed and with it the world of social media has flown in a new direction. Drones are gaining popularity and the images they produce never cease to amaze!
The drone craze opens the doors for all kinds of new ventures for people. Whether you are a photography hobbyist or a professional the sky is no longer the limit, providing you stop at 120m or get certified. So the sky kind of is still the limit. Anyway, speaking of limitations, there are laws, rules and safety guidelines that have been implemented in countries all over the world regarding the flying of drones. This is understandable and necessary following near misses with passenger jet engines near London Heathrow, that farmer who shot his neighbours drone with a shotgun because it was invading his private space and that time a drone fell out of the sky during a ski slalom race and narrowly missed Marcel Hirscher.
I’m Here With All The Gear
So, you’ve landed in Australia and you’ve got your DJI [insert model here] packed neatly in your backpack. You’re gagging to get over to Coogee and photograph that golden hour, guy takes his 6am swim in the sea pool picture right? Here’s everything you need to know to stop yourself getting landed with a fine!
Heads Up: We will only be focusing on recreational drone flying here, for commercial laws and certifications check out CASA.
I Can Fly Up To Space, Right?
WRONG. As much as it’d be lovely to have the same view that Felix Baumgartner did, and get a million gram likes if you achieved it, you are not allowed. The maximum height that any recreational drone pilot can fly their unit is 120m above the ground and your device must remain visible by your naked eye at all times. This means any first person viewing device is a no go, sorry to any drone racers out there! Also, daytime flying only ladies and gents, those nights shoots can wait till you’re qualified. I definitely saw 10+ drones in the air at Sydney’s NYE bonanza but I wonder how many made it home..
No Fly Areas
The most obvious no fly zones are airports and manned aircraft areas. All drones that weigh over 100g must not be flown within 5.5km of any manned airports or similarly used areas. For reference the DJI Spark comes in at a take off weight of 300g and that is one of the smallest on the market! There are different rules for other aircraft areas such as unmanned helipads. You may fly your drone near these but if you see any aircraft at all, remove your drone from the area safely and ground it immediately.
A big one that i’m sure you’ve all wondered about is the famous Sydney Harbour. With numerous major landmarks and locations all in one area it is a drone pilots wet dream but, i’m afraid to say, an absolute no drone zone. Due to regular use by helicopters and seaplanes, the airspace around the harbour is restricted and permission to fly is required. I’ve seen drone shots of the harbour on insta before.. just saying.
Other no fly zones include private property, sensitive areas such as military locations or schools and national parks. You will only be able to fly over these if you have permission from the relative authorities or land owner (for private property) so ensure you have covered your bases for these ones!
A great way to find out if you are able to fly your drone where you are (or where you are going) download CASA’s ‘Can I Fly There’ app available for Android and iOS.
National Parks are of course one that you are likely to want to know about seeing as that’s where most of the beauty spots of the country are! Drones are used in the parks for maintenance purposes however it is advised that you seek permission from the park manager prior to flying your own. Due to the risk to wildlife and potential for the invasion of visitor privacy it is recommended that you are very careful about where you fly. Once you have permission from the park manager you must follow CASA’s recreational flying rules. Remember that each park, state and country will have its own laws and regulations so always do local research.
The air is not a place that humans are ‘supposed’ to be. It is however a place where birds are supposed to be. The fact that we can now invade this space with loud, and no doubt terrifying, electric birds means considerations regarding wildlife must be taken. This country is huge and consequently so is the variety of animal life you can encounter. A photo isn’t worth the life or potential life of an animal! It is not unheard of for large birds to attack drones or swoop at them aggressively if they are in their territory. It goes without saying a collision would be catastrophic for both the bird and your toy, neither of which is something anybody wants! Not so gruesomely, but still importantly, your obtrusive drone could be enough to make the bird flee its nest and potentially abandon any younglings in the process.
With the abundance of whale sightings in and around Australia’s beautiful coast it is no surprise that there are strict laws regarding their viewing. Depending on the type of vessel or aircraft you are in you must stay a maximum distance away from marine life such as whales, dolphins, dugongs and seals and at no times ever approach them from the front. Drones are allowed to be no closer than 100m to the animal. Fines for breaching this distance can carry a fine of up to $110,000!
CASA state that drones must always be at least 30m away from people who are not directly involved with the flying of the unit. Flying over people, beaches, parks, sporting occasions or similar is prohibited. Drones must also never be flown in an area affecting public safety or where emergency action is ongoing or being undertaken. In other words don’t think about trying to replace ABC’s news helicopter with your Mavic Air.. your drone is enough to ground emergency response aircraft. The ramifications of that are enormous, think before you fly!
Privacy is a very key issue here. The rules for flying drones in Australia state that you must respect people’s privacy and not take photos or videos of anyone without consent. Be mindful that state laws still apply on top of the all of these rules and the serious fines, punishments and consequences that come with them.
A document covering all you need to know for recreational drone flying, written by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) can be downloaded here.
Fines & Punishment
In 2015 a Queensland drone pilot was fined $850 by CASA based purely on his YouTube video footage taken with his drone. Admittedly, he was fined for repeat offences but one of them was for flying within 3 nautical miles of Townsville Airport. On the subject however, the CASA representative did say that they don’t trawl YouTube looking to penalise but if somebody reports a video then they can, and may, investigate. Later on, in 2016, a man was not only arrested, but tasered, by a park ranger and fined US$1000 for flying his drone over a volcano in Hawaii and trying to run away! Either know the rules or hit the track and get your sprint speed up to professional.
Now Go & Fly!
Sorry for sounding like a teacher through most of this. Good luck getting some of the coolest shots you’ve ever taken and safe flying!
N & G x