The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, or CASA, looks after flying machines above our heads all around the nation. As a result, it’s also responsible for looking after the safe use of drones in Australia.
CASA breaks down drone operations into two different categories: commercial and civil/hobbyist use, with different rules for each.
The CASA defines the commercial use of a drone as anything you’re doing relating to business operations. For example, if you’re a production company strapping a camera to a drone for the purposes of gathering footage, or if you’re flying something into the air to test it via a drone.
Before you can even get a drone remote in your hands for commercial purposes, CASA requires that pilots undergo a certification process in order to get an Operator’s Certificate. That demonstrates that you can not only fly a drone safely, but also that you’re aware of rules and regulations relating to drone flights in Australia.
The regulations don’t stop there, either: for any drone flights, commercial operators need explicit approval from CASA before you can even leave the ground with your flying machine.
That approval involves filing several important documents with the regulator, including a flight plan and copies of your certifications.
If a commercial entity is caught operating a drone without any of these things, the flight feds will can come down on you. Hard.
For starters, they can revoke a a commercial entity’s Operator’s Certificate, which is kind of like having your driver’s license suspended as a cab driver. It’s all bad. Drone operators can re-apply for their Operator’s Certificate, but that request goes through the CASA which has the power to refuse or place conditions on any new permit.
The CASA can also consider the use of infringement notices or criminal charges for commercial operators if offences are serious enough.
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For drone operators looking to do a bit of skylarking with their quadcopters, the rules from CASA aren’t anywhere near as serious. Private operators don’t need approval from CASA before taking flight with their drones, but there are some rules that need to be respected.
The rules are simple:
• Stay at least 30 metres away from people with your drone.
• Keep your drone under 400 feet (121.92m).
• You may not operate your drone above a large gathering of people (i.e.: at sporting events, over crowds at the beach or groups of protestors)
• You must keep your drone within sight while you’re operating it.
• You may not operate your drone within 5km of an airport and a place where planes take off or land from.
If you violate these rules, CASA can take action against you in the form of infringement notices (read: fines) up to $8,500 per offence. If you put people at risk or seriously injure someone, the penalties are far more serious and will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
For example, a private drone operator was allegedly using a quadcopter above a marathon race earlier in the year. The drone reportedly failed and struck a woman in the head causing serious injury.
The CASA told us today that the case is currently before the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether or not criminal charges will be laid against the operator.