An interesting matter arose recently when a Victorian man operating a drone from the luxury of his backyard pool, flew the drone out of his line of site, across a busy highway and over to his nearby Bunnings Warehouse. Suspended from the drone was a piece of string, a zip lock bag, $10 and a note asking for a sausage sandwich.

The sandwich was dutifully attached and the man, via the cameras on his drone and still reclining in his backyard pool, returned the drone to himself and then no doubt enjoyed his lunch.

The man uploaded footage of his endeavours to the internet and what has subsequently been revealed is that several people worked together to create the feat, the people selling the sausages were approached in advance, and the footage shows that multiple shots from different angles and not just from the drone were used.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is now investigating the incident and has indicated that a number of breaches of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (Cth) had occurred and members of the team potentially face fines of $9,000.

With the rise of the interest in drones and their ease of availability to purchase, this highlights some key issues about the operation of drones for recreational purposes in suburban areas.

Licensing for recreational drones

Typically, a licence is required in order to operate a drone. However, in certain circumstances, a licence is not required. This depends on the gross weight of the drone, whether the flight is for sport or recreational purposes and whether the flight complies with the “standard operating conditions” (SOC) - the basic rules relating to drone operation.

In order to comply with SOC, a drone has to remain within sight and must not be operated within:

  • Populated, restricted or prohibited areas;
  • within 5.5 kilometres of a controlled aerodrome;
  • at a height of more than 120 metres above ground level;
  • within 30 metres of an uninvolved person; or
  • over an area where a fire, police or emergency operation is being conducted.

The regulation divides drones into five classes depending on weight as follows:

  • “micro” – where the drone weighs 100g or less;
  • “very small” – where the drone weighs between 100g and 2kg;
  • “small” – where the drone weighs between 2kg and 25kg;
  • “medium” – where the drone weighs between 25kg and 150kg; and
  • “large” – where the drone weighs over 150kg.

Where a “micro” or “very small” drone is used for sport or recreational purposes, a licence will not be required where it is operated in accordance with the SOC. “Small” and “medium” drones additionally require that the operator have relevant training or experience, or that it be operated on a consenting landowner’s property. Lastly, a licence will always be required to operate a “large” drone.

Further reading

There are many more factors needed to be considered in the operation of drones in Australia including, for example, their utilisation for commercial purposes, such as in mining and agricultural operations; as well as privacy issues, for example, when flying drones over houses and residents who might otherwise be entitled to peace and solitude.

We will discuss these factors and more over the course of this series.