Strange turns in drone regulation in Australia and the United States..

June 3, 2017 |

The conversion of drone technology from military to civilian use and then its development from a relatively expensive hobbyist vehicle to a widely affordable and necessary part of many industries has been a spectacular journey.  It has taken many by surprise.  In 2010 the Federal Aviation Authority predicted that there would be 15,000 units by 2020 and 30,000 by 2030.  A year ago in the United States more than 15,000 drones were sold every month.  Since the FAA commenced its registration system in December 2015 more than 800,000 drone owners have registered to fly.

While the technology has moved on at a exponential pace the Federal Governments in Australia and the United States have done nothing to deal with the intrusive potential of drones notwithstanding the ample need to do so.  For example in Australia the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs tabled its excellent report Inquiry into drones and the regulation of air safety and privacy  on 14 July 2014.  It is better known as Eyes in the Sky.   It recommended:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government coordinate with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Privacy Commissioner to review the adequacy of the privacy and air safety regimes in relation to remotely piloted aircraft, highlighting any regulatory issues and future areas of action. This review should be publicly released by June 2016.

Even this vague recommendation was ignored.

The failure to protect privacy has been a failure of public policy.  That doesn’t stop the Federal Government agencies coming up with daft proposals in substitution.  In the United States the Trump Administration is seriously considering proposals to allow the Government to track and destroy drones.  Needless to say that is causing major consternation because of the likely consequences, damage to property, lack of property protection and a  heavy handed simplistic solution to a complex issue.  From one extreme to another, light touch to smashing with a hammer. In Australia the Civil Aviation Authority has, with a straight face, heralded an app to tell operators where to fly.  Better than what existed before but the regulations are still incomplete, they are incomplete and the regulation is at best inadequate. The safety drone app is covered by itnews with CASA releases safe drone flying app.

While the FAA focuses on flight safety in the United States the States and sometimes municipalities have stepped in to regulate the use of drones beyond the flight safety issues, in particular privacy. In Australia the regulation, such as it is, in its most recent form is found in the  Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment (Part 101) Regulation 2016.  These regulations commenced on 29 September 2016.  The focus is entirely on flight regulation and safe use of drones.

The rules are that drones under 2kg for hobbyists (uncertified flyers) are

  • Below 400 ft (120 m)
  • In uncontrolled (Class G) airspace
  • More than 3 nm (5.5 km) from an aerodrome or helipad listed on the VTC
  • More than 30 m away from other people
  • Not in a populous areas
  • Within Visual Line of Sight

Otherwise for operators using drones for commercial gain:

  • within visual line of sight
  • below 400 ft AGL
  • during the day
  • more than 30 m away from anyone who is not directly associated with the operation (people being filmed are not considered to be directly associated with the RPA’s operation)

but not used:

  • over a populous area
  • within 3 nautical miles of the movement area of a controlled aerodrome
  • in a prohibited area
  • in a restricted area that is classified as RA3
  • in a restricted area that is classified as RA2 or RA1 otherwise than in accordance with regulation 101.065
  • over an area where a fire, police or other public safety or emergency operation is being conducted without the approval of a person in charge of the operation

One Response to “Strange turns in drone regulation in Australia and the United States..”

  1. Strange turns in drone regulation in Australia and the United States.. | Australian Law Blogs

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