Dear Lifehacker, I was wondering what the main laws are on drones in Australia? (i.e. - How high can you fly a drone, how far away are you allowed to be and where is drone activity restricted?) I'm looking to buy one for Christmas and don't want to cop a fine if I can help it. Thanks, Riley
Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) laws were recently relaxed in Australia in direct response to drone use which has exploded at the hobbyist level. It's now easier to fly your drone in public without running afoul of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. With that said, there are still a few rules you need to be aware of.
Drones weighing 2kg or under do not require a licence or controller’s certificate. This includes the vast majority of drones sold at the consumer level. In addition, drones under 25kg can be flown without licensing or notification requirements if they are used for “sport and recreation”, or if they are flown on private land and used for private aerial photography, spotting, communications or agricultural operations.
There are, however, a few areas you need to steer clear of. Flying is prohibited in controlled airspace, over emergency operations without approval, out of the pilot’s direct line of sight or in an area of “sufficient density of population for some aspect of the operation … to pose an unreasonable risk to the life, safety or property”.
You also need to stay below 400ft (122m) and refrain from flying at night. You're not allowed to fly multiple drones in 'swarms' either and must keep your drone at least 30 metres away from other people. This last one is easier said than done, particularly if you're flying a small drone in a park with people walking around. Thankfully, it's also pretty difficult to enforce - unless you're flying your drone directly in people's faces you should be okay.
You also need to be mindful of how your drone records video. 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.)
The basic gist is as follows: don't use your drone to record conversations without permission and don't shoot footage in places where a reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy, such as a house window or backyard. If you follow those two rules, your footage should be mostly okay.
Another point to consider is the noise your drone makes: In Australia, domestic noise limitations help to regulate how much residential noise is acceptable at certain times of the day. If it interferes unreasonably with the "comfort or repose" of nearby persons, it may be considered a noise violation.
The exact decibel level that constitutes "too loud" varies from council to council. However, it pays to be considerate regardless as drones are bloody noisy. Keep away from your neighbours and stick to places like parks and football fields where lots of noise is tolerated.
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