Ask LH: What Are The Legal Issues With My New Drone?

Hey Lifehacker, I've recently acquired a quadcopter/drone and have been playing around for about a week now. I'm wondering if there's any legal issues around flying these drones? As far as I can tell from the CASA website they are classed as a hobby unless it's for commercial use and thus require no licensing, but what about privacy issues? It seems like there's very little regulation and I could fly it through the city streets without getting in trouble. Any thoughts? Cheers, Drone Fan

Dear DF,

According to Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR), any individual who operates an unmanned aircraft, model aircraft or rocket is supposed to apply for a Controller’s Certificate. However, this is rarely (if ever) enforced at the hobbyist level.

Here's what the CASA had to say on the matter during a recent public seminar about drones in civil airspace:

Significant technological advances and associated cost reductions have made drones more accessible, including at the very small end of the RPA scale — equivalent to the hobby level — which has made the application of [the CASR 101] regulation somewhat ineffective.

Otherwise, the main law that you need to be aware of is to stay below 400 feet (around 122 metres). Your quadcopter probably isn't capable of reaching those heights, which means you should be in the clear.

As to the second part of your question, any device that takes video footage or photos is subject to Australian privacy laws, which vary slightly from state to state (you can get an overview of each state here).

Nationwide, the general gist is that you can't record people in a location that a reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy, such as through a house's window or over a backyard fence. Similarly, you can't just assume it's okay to film inside shopping centres and car parks either; this is private property and the owners will probably want you to ask permission first.

If you live in NSW or the ACT, there are additional laws surrounding audio capture. In both states, recording of private conversations without consent is prohibited. If your drone has an on-board microphone you may want to disable it when strangers are around just to be on the safe side. That said, most drones are so noisy that a person would basically need to be deaf for you to film them covertly.

On a final note, it obviously pays to use common sense rather than looking for regulation loopholes. While it might be technically legal to fly your drone through a crowded city street, you're still going to get in trouble if you accidentally cause an injury. We're sure the police will find something to charge you with and you'll probably get sued by the victim too. Our advice is to stick to football fields and spacious parks for your aviation pursuits.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    As a hobbyist model airplane, you also MUST keep it in view at all time, only use it during the daytime and you cannot operate it from a vehicle.

    Note that unless you are flying it at certain set places there is no insurance cover. If this drone causes ANY accident you will pay heavily.

    Note that people's personal property rights on their houses extend to space. You may not operate your drone over other people's property.

    The worst thing that can happen in a car park or shopping centre is that you will be asked to leave.
    Unless America, you may get SWAT called.

    The object is Prohibited within 3 NM of any airport. That is about 5km. I suspect that this is strict liability, so no intent is needed.

    And in case you are wondering, the cops get called to playing fields near Bankstown Airport all the time, although I think people just get warnings. The reason for the prohibition is that within this area, planes are likely to be taking off or landing.

    There might also be restrictions on their use in areas where Class C controlled airspace extends to the surface. This is mostly at major international airports, and their surrounds, but could extend 10nm or more. I don't know about this. Class D airspace will often only be about 3nm in radius, so it is probhibited anyway!

    Wonder why these areas are prohibited? I have seen a small Cessna where a bat come through the front windshield, ripping the doors open, resulting in anything loose immediately leaving the aircraft. This included the heave headset that the pilot was wearing and was plugged in. There is not that much difference between a plane/drone and a bat!


    Haven't there also been recent regulatory changes which stipulate that you cannot fly UAVs in public at any altitude within 15m of people on the ground?

    What if you were using a drone with camera capabilities as part of a complimentary service to clients (ie real estate agent not charging for photos or videos) can the agent then use this drone as part of his business without obtaining a controllers certificate?

    I'm not 100% sure but I would suggest that if the images are used as part of providing a service and the agent is profiting from that service, the point at which the images are used and a profit is made they would be in breach.

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