If you’ve been eyeing off the latest drones in the hope of finding one under the Christmas tree this year, you might want to consider making a submission to the current federal parliament inquiry into the safe use of remotely piloted aircraft, unmanned aerial and associated systems (RPAS).
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee were encouraged by the Senate in October to invite submissions and report back on April 27, 2017.
The submissions closing date is December Thursday, December 15.
Among the subjects being reviewed include state and local government regulation around the potential recreational and commercial uses of RPAS the potential recreational and commercial uses of RPAS, including agriculture, mining, infrastructure assessment, search and rescue, fire and policing operations, aerial mapping and scientific research.
Insurance requirements of both private and commercial users and operators including consideration of the suitability of existing data protection, liability and insurance regimes, and whether these are sufficient to meet growing use of RPAS.
According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), current safety laws for drones as defined in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 101 differ if you’re using a drone for fun or commercial gain.
Flying for money means you need an RPA operator’s certificate (ReOC). For fun, then no certificate is required and the rules are pretty simple.
You must only fly during the day and keep your RPA within visual line of sight, not higher than 120 metres, at least 30 metres away from people and 5.5 kilometres away from controlled aerodromes.
You must not fly your RPA over any populous areas such as beaches, parks or sporting ovals or anywhere which puts public safety at risk or where emergency operations are underway (without prior approval) such as a car crash, police operations, fire, search and rescue.
You can only fly one RPA at at time.
The regulations in place follow common sense but the parliamentary enquiry will consider further restrictions on drone use based on submissions and comparing Australian laws with international ones.
On the flip side if you’re neighbour’s camera equipped drone is constantly hovering over your backyard pool, what protection does the law give to our privacy?
Technically they’re not breaking any laws under the Privacy Act because they apply only to organisations with an annual turnover of $3 million dollars, according to Choice and consequently there’d be no law to support an individual who feels a drone has been used to invade their privacy, under the Act.
Surveillance laws might apply but there’s nothing concrete to guarantee it. Anti-stalking laws might apply and they might not.
Once the committee makes their report, the rules will probably become more defined.
Drones are yet to be a public menace. CASA issued 15 infringement notices to recreational drone users last year and since 2014, only 100 warnings for drone safety breaches.
Fines for illicit drone activity currently range from around $900 to $9000.
As far back as 2014, the government had recommended retailers include pamphlets to instruct recreational drone pilots that their responsibility includes not monitoring, recording or disclosing individual’s private activities without their prior consent.
They also recommended legislation be introduced by July 2015 to protect against privacy invasion but that hasn’t happened.
Some things you can do include dropping off a parcel as long as the delivery doesn’t pose a risk and flying over private land as long as it doesn’t interfere with the landowner’s use and enjoyment of their private property.
You can’t fly over sporting events, or video or photograph your neighbours yard or use your recreational drone to make money unless you have an operator’s certificate from CASA. Under the definition of making money are flights for advertising purposes and uploading videos to YouTube.
There have been examples of the downside to drones. In 2013 a drone pilot was fined $850 for crashing his recreational drone into the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This year a personal drone crashed during a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra which despite being awkward manifestly disrespectful.
Also in April this year a drone crashed into an airbus on approach at Heathrow Airport in the UK starkly highlighting the inherent risks a drone in the wrong hands creates.
So while the idea of owning and operating a drone sounds like and is a lot of fun, the jury’s out on so many aspect of ownership and use, but not for long.
Many of the submissions already received by the inquiry are from model airplane enthusiasts whose hobby will be affected by any legislation changes or amendments in the future and on the back of the exponential growth in drone ownership and use.
Yvette Aubusson-Foley is a Dubbo journo, who spent time living and raising her family in the USA, but has now returned to her home town.