How CASA's New Drone Laws Will Impact the Industry

CASA's New Drone Laws

One of the biggest complications with Australia's drone laws is that not everyone who owns and operates a drone is aware of the laws, and it seems that it's also the case that many simply don't care. The difficulty of prosecution is not something to be relied upon, however. It is far safer for drone users to comply with the laws because if they don't, it's very likely to swing the tide of public opinion enough that politicians will be encouraged to toughen up legislation and slow down the development of drone uptake and technology in Australia.

Already new rules have been brought into play because there have been so many blatant violations of safety regulations and personal privacy.

One of the ways CASA has attempted to make it easier for drone operators to comply with the law is via the publication of its Can I Fly There database system, which is available as an app for iPhone and Android and can also be accessed from a website.

Knowing about this will make it far easier for drone operators to at least know if operating in a certain area will result in a violation.

Registration will be compulsory for commercial operators

This will be one of the most difficult laws to enforce, since it may not be easy to identify who the operator of an unregistered drone is, nor will it be easy to identify whether a drone is registered or not. However, unregistered drones flying in ‘no-fly’ areas will be confiscated.

Registration will be compulsory for drones over 250g

In practical terms, it might just as well be said "for all drones", because there are very few usable drones currently on the market that weigh less. Those that do can generally be considered to be ‘toys’ or otherwise, are extremely expensive, sophisticated military devices that are out of reach of the average consumer anyway.

A matter of age

One of the most confusing new rules is that operators of drones who are under 16 years of age must be supervised by an accredited drone operator who is over 18 years of age. This leaves a kind of twilight zone between the ages of 16 and 18 where a person does not need supervision but also can not provide it for someone else.

Registration is going to cost you

Drones are getting less expensive to buy, but with new legislation, you’ll need to pay a $160 registration fee.

For commercial purposes, and those looking for a career in drone operation, the commercial operator's license will be an essential ticket and a must-have requirement.

The bottom line

Whether or not there will be an impact on the industry depends largely on what percentage of the industry decides to comply with the regulations, and how effectively CASA and other law enforcement agencies can detect and prosecute those in violation.

News reports indicate that CASA currently relies heavily on social media posts for collection of evidence against alleged violators, however, this not really the most effective method because:

  • Posting an image on social media does not mean the image originated from the person posting it, and the burden of proof is on CASA to establish who was the original creator of the image.
  • CASA only has jurisdiction over Australian airspace, and the burden of proof is on CASA to establish without doubt that an image alleged to be in violation of the law was actually taken within Australian airspace.
  • Laws can not be prosecuted retroactively, meaning that violations that occurred prior to the law coming into effect can't be prosecuted. The burden of proof is on CASA to establish that the image was created after the laws came into effect. The date an image is posted online is not necessarily the date the image was created.

Overall, it would seem there may be little impact on the industry except for increased costs due to the need for registration, however, for anybody looking to take-up drone flying in a commercial context becoming a licensed operator with a registered device is essential.

The definition of a drone will also need to be reworked. While it's clear that CASA intends to include all unmanned aerial vehicles in its regulations, the wording of many regulations and the type of evidence being relied on for enforcement is strongly indicative of photography drones, which are only one class of drone.

Drones may be used for making deliveries, performing non-photographic work (for example, thermal scanning of solar arrays to find hot spots), scientific applications, and at some point in the future as human transport devices as well.

CASA will need to think about not only current classes of drones but also anticipate future development in order to be ready for what is coming. Otherwise, the legislation will be at least one step behind.

If the laws are designed to help keep our airspace safe, then as long as the law is out of step with what is happening, presumably the airspace will be less safe than it should be.

To be CASA certified and to ensure you’re legally in the clear to fly your registered drone, contact a drone expert today for free!

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