What Are The Rules About Operating A Drone In Australia?

Scored a drone/quadcopter/flying camera rig for Christmas? Good on you! Now how do you go about flying the damn thing without falling foul of Australia's flight feds at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority? Here are the rules.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, or CASA, looks after flying machines above our heads all around the nation. As a result, it's also responsible for setting the rules about the safe use of drones in Australia.

CASA breaks down drone operations into two categories: commercial and civil/hobbyist use, with different rules for each. Updated December 2015, visit casa.gov.au/RPA for the latest.

Under relaxed rules now delayed until 2016, drones under 2kg will no longer need approval from CASA before commencing flight operations in relation to commercial work. Commercial pilots still need to obtain their operator’s certificates, however.

CASA will work on an expanded set of regulations for hobby and consumer-grade drones once the commercial weight approval rule has been implemented.

These new rules will address things like flying drones beyond the operator’s line-of-sight, operating a drone in an airspace where other aircraft are flying and autonomous drones that require little to no input from operators to fly.

In general, don't think you can ignore the rules and get away with it. As one Queensland drone operator found out, posting video online that showed rules being broken resulted in a hefty $850 fine. CASA has been scouring YouTube for Aussie drone pilots breaking the rules in their aerial videos and issuing fines accordingly.

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Civil/Hobby Drone Use

As things stand today, pivate operators don't need approval from CASA before taking flight with their drones, but there are some rules that need to be respected.

The rules are simple:

• Stay at least 30 metres away from people with your drone.

• Keep your drone under 120 metres (400 feet).

No night flying or flying through fog/cloud. You should be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through point-of-view camera/screen/glasses) at all times.

• You may not operate your drone above a large gathering of people (e.g.: fireworks, at sporting events, over crowds at the beach or groups of protesters).

• You must keep your drone within sight while you're operating it.

• You may not operate your drone within 5.5km of an airport and a place where planes take off or land from.

CASA also reminds us that:

• The privacy of other people should be respected by not flying near homes and backyards.
• Never fly a drone in an active bushfire area as there is a real risk of a mid-air collision with a fire fighting aircraft, which could cause an accident. Fire fighting aircraft will be grounded if a drone is conducting unauthorised flights on a fire ground, hampering work to control the fire and putting people and property at risk.
• Drones should also be kept away from police operations, accident scenes, building fires and rescue operations.

If you violate these rules, CASA can take action against you in the form of infringement notices (read: fines) up to $8500 per offence. If you put people at risk or seriously injure someone, the penalties are far more serious and will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

For example, a private drone operator was allegedly using a quadcopter above a marathon race. The drone reportedly failed and struck a woman in the head causing serious injury.

The CASA took the case before the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether or not criminal charges could be laid against the operator.

Commercial Drone Use

The CASA defines the commercial use of a drone as anything you're doing for hire or reward. For example, if you're a production company strapping a camera to a drone for the purposes of gathering footage, or if you're flying something into the air to test it via a drone, that's commercial use.

Before you can even get a drone remote in your hands for commercial purposes, CASA requires that pilots undergo a certification process in order to get an Operator's Certificate. That demonstrates that you can not only fly a drone safely, but also that you're aware of rules and regulations relating to drone flights in Australia.

The regulations don't stop there, either: for any drone flights, commercial operators need explicit approval from CASA before you can even leave the ground with your flying machine.

That approval involves filing several important documents with the regulator, including a flight plan and copies of your certifications.

If a commercial entity is caught operating a drone without any of these things, the flight feds will can come down on you. Hard.

For starters, they can revoke a a commercial entity's Operator's Certificate, which is kind of like having your driver's licence suspended as a taxi driver. It's all bad. Drone operators can re-apply for their Operator's Certificate, but that request goes through the CASA which has the power to refuse or place conditions on any new permit.

The CASA can also consider the use of infringement notices or criminal charges for commercial operators if offences are serious enough.

In new rules now delayed until 2016: Australia's civil aviation safety body announced plans to slightly loosen the rules around commercial drone operation, making it easier for you to make a bit of money on the side from your drone photography or drone video business.

Lightweight drones -- those under 2 kilograms, which would include the popular combination of DJI Phantom 3 plus a GoPro or other compact video camera setup -- will be allowed to be operated by commercial drone pilots or companies undertaking commercial work, without having to apply and be granted a commercial drone operation licence.

For companies and operators to be exempt from those licencing requirements, though, the drones they operate will have to follow the same rules as recreational users:

• Stay at least 30 metres away from people with your drone.

• Keep your drone under 120 metres. Commercial drone operators can go higher with special approvals.

• You may not operate your drone above a large gathering of people (e.g.: fireworks, at sporting events, over crowds at the beach or groups of protesters).

• You must keep your drone within sight while you're operating it.

• You may not operate your drone within 5.5km of an airport and a place where planes take off or land from.

Drone operators' licences are still in high demand at CASA; the authority has a backlog of over applications for commercial pilots.

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What do you think of the drone rules? Have you accidentally broken them before? Are they easy to follow? Tell us in the Gizmodo comments!


    Why are there measurements in feet in Australia regulations?

      Because that's how the airline industry and military measure altitude. It's always been feet and will probably remain that way forever.

        Just like wind out to sea is in knots

      I suspect feet is somewhat a de-facto standard for altitude.

        more likely the actual standard. lol.

      because feet (0.3048 metres) is the internationally accepted standard for altitude.

      AFAIK the feet/nautical miles measurements are still used almost universally for distances in the context of aviation, as they are in shipping. As pilots and shipping crew tend to travel between countries, it makes sense to have a universal measure, and as it happens, these fields never made the transition. The nautical miles part makes some sense in that it relates to the geography of the earth (so it's actually less arbitrary than the metric system).

      (Correct me if I'm wrong on this!)

        Metric system also originally related to geography of the earth.. 1 metre was originally 1⁄10,000,000 part of the quarter of a meridian, measurement by Delambre and Mechain
        according to Wikipedia...

      its stupid yes but there are lots of "oh yeah fair enough" reasons. Like imagine if one plane was in Metric and needing an emergency landing in say New Guinea, the pilot is talking and he knows Metric but there talking to him in feet. Those seconds it would take to translate the information could be life or dead. There is a true story of when Canada moved to the Metric System and flew to America and then when it flew back they got confused and didn't fill the plane up enough and then the pilot had to glide the plane into a river. Its a pretty awesome story >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

        haha sorry america actually have nothing to do with the story i told.

        and yes in australia we use litres and kg for fuel and weights...

        Metres for all distances except elevation, height and altitude, for these, feet it is..

      Joey, have you ever been up in a cockpit before?

      LMAO WGAF !!

      Its not only in Australia but everywhere else in the world. Which kind of make sense to me at least.

    Wonder if rockets come under the same guidelines? They are quite a bit of fun but come down via a parachute if everything works properly.

      Yep, if your wondering took you to the CASA web site you would discover that rockets are covered by CASR-101 as well. (AC 101-2 is easier reading)

    just how expensive are these camera drones anyway?

      They are getting cheaper and cheaper as they gain popularity.
      The prices depend on size etc. Smallest/cheapest camera drone I've seen was just under $100. Most expensive camera drone I've seen was around $15K, Canon 1D Camera was included.
      But the majority of the drones are around the $400 to $600 mark (then add price of gopro etc).

      Last edited 15/10/14 3:07 pm

      There's a tiny little quadcopter available from an Australian company for $61, plus shipping. It doesn't transmit the footage, but records it on a microsd card.

      You could probably build a full sized quad with a gymbal for less than $500, possibly including the cost of the gopro. Flite Test is a good channel on youtube for people new to this kind of thing.

    how convenient i literally just asked bought one of these and asked in the Kotaku TAY if anyone knew this info :D

    @thyco i picked up an MLtoys V222 with 2 spare batteries, 2 lots of spare blades, for $110 delivered.
    The one pictured looks like a phantom, they go for upwards of $1200-$2400+

    Last edited 15/10/14 1:21 pm

    Very interesting. Am I correct in assuming that Civil/Hobby use includes any civilian who just got a drone for Christmas or what have you?

      If you're not charging anybody money for the operation of your drone, then it falls under civil/hobby use.

      Source: I work in the film industry.

        Mannotron is correct.

        Source: common sense

        Last edited 28/12/15 4:55 pm

          Rules, regulations, laws etc - aren't bound by common sense.

      Correct. You are bound by CASR 101 section G

    Luke, a quick re-write NEEDED. including the Controller certification requirements.

    Also if you are informing people, it is good NOT to use the word DRONE, it has no legal meaning (therefore they may find it hard to get information on the legality of operating such a craft), get people used to the relationship to hobby Radio controlled flying, or the type of aircraft they are interested in ie, multicopters, helicopters, flying planks or gliders.
    "The term drone can be seen in news stories about military operations in the Middle East using unmanned aircraft. The aircraft flying such missions are precision weapons systems. That is not what we're talking about when we discuss unmanned aircraft operations in civil airspace. The operations CASA approves provide many safety benefits and serve the public good.
    CASA (and the international aviation regulator ICAO) refers to these as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). This term emphasises that there is a human 'in the loop', controlling and overseeing the aircraft, even if that person remains on the ground." www.CASA.gov.au

    The Operator is a company or other registered legal entity (other than an individual) which wishes to OPERATE such aircraft. The Controller is an individual who wishes to be paid for flying a RC aircraft. Certification is required for both of these entities independently before any commercial or otherwise professional use of remotely piloted aircraft can be performed.

    For information regarding these see the CASA website (CASA are calling them Remotely piloted aircraft in many documents)

    All of your common questions and correct information will be included from this index:


    PDF flyer (sic)

    For formal regulations see CASR Part 101 (standard reading for all serious RC flyers)

    PS. Yes Model rockets, balloons, gliders and fireworks are covered in the Civil aviation safety regulations part 101

    Last edited 15/10/14 2:31 pm

      According to the OED, a drone is "A remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile."

      Luke's use appears to be accurate.

      This looks to me like a case where a term in general use has been adopted by a specialised field and refined in meaning within that field so that usage no longer quite matches the original use.

      On the other hand, when the military talk about a drone where there is no human in the loop, *they* are using the term incorrectly; the definition requires a human being in the loop. (Hmm, strictly speaking I suppose it could be a remote AI... which I hope never happens.) It looks like CASA has modified their terminology to avoid confusion caused by incorrect military (ab)use of the term.

        PS. There is always a human on or in the loop.

        So Far.

    Ouch!, $79.77 on banggood + $15 for batteries and blades (delivered)

    This doesn't acknowledge that there is currently a submission underway from CASA to the DG that recommends Operators of the smallest Group A, weighing 2kg or less, will simply be able to fill out an online authorisation form, receive electronic approval, and start flying.

      An unlicensed pilot or operator won't be given approval to operate outside the generic safe use guidelines though, so technically an unlicensed op. using a phantom-3 Pro, will be breaking the law shooting residential real-estate shots because of the clauses in CASR 101 regarding populated areas, and proximity to uninvolved parties and property.

      On the other hand a hobbyist flying closer than 5km to an airport isn't breaking any law, provided manned operations aren't impacted because of the word "should".

    There are other matters:
    The safety aspects of the drone itself. There are many parameters which need to be specified and complied with including range; inability to got out of range of the controller; flight mode under loss of power or control; RF interference both ways; safety if a device comes into contact with a person, animal, property or powerline; noise levels; plus; plus.
    For both private and commercial use there also need to be privacy requirements including flying over or photographing private individuals or private property.
    They sound like great fun but may also cause some personal or legal grief.

      RPA not drone, even RC helicopter.

      Drone implies military craft which this article is not about.

        No it doesn't. Look the word up in the dictionary. OED, Mirriam-Webster, several others - I could not find any online dictionary which referenced the military in its definition of "drone."

        That doesn't mean that terms like RPA and UAV are wrong, but "drone" in this context is correct usage.

        Now if it pilots *itself* - that's a robot (or automaton), not a drone.

          Do you possibly think that maybe the dictionary isn't technically correct??
          (Or not perfectly well inforned).
          lol, just having fun (but it is a possibility).

        To many people, ie. general public; "Drone" specifically refers to quadcopters, because of all the nano/micro-drone toys available, and how DJI marketing has made the Phantom seem Ubiquitous.

        These same people don't understand the term UAV, UA or RPA.

        RPA has been introduced to convince the public that there IS a Pilot, just not onboard.

        Even the OED, and MWOD may need a little education on correct usage.

        NB. Single-Use, propelled ordnance is specifically excluded from being called an Unmanned aircraft (Drone).

      That is all part of the UOC in your SWMS and JSA

    How exactly are you supposed to know if your flying it too high? Do they have altitude monitors on them or something?

      For the DJI Phantoms, height restrictions can be programmed to the Phantom itself. You can also have telemetry relayed to a ground station. I am unsure if this feature is available on RPAS other than DJi.

    I don't know if this is true in all states, but in SA, the CFS won't conduct air ops if drones are present over a fireground. So, even if it's legal (and it might not be, I don't know), trying to get some cool aerial footage of a bushfire could actually be severely hindering the firefighting effort.

    Last edited 15/10/14 7:57 pm

      All RPAS have to maintain 1500m separation from larger aircraft, at all times. Part of operating an RPA requires the use and license of the VHF air and radio. This is my biggest grief with hobbiest a because they have no way of knowing who's flying near them.

        NB, need reference for this distance.

        "Well clear" is a stretchy term, and is poorly defined (intentionally).

        Last edited 28/12/15 6:46 pm

    Another wrong piece of info there, a UOC holder does not need an area approval unless they operate outside the restrictions on the RPAS Level 1 license and the operating procedures contained with the Operations Manual (developed by the company and approved by CASA).

    A good example of this is when I need to do some mapping within 3nm of an airfield, or in controlled airspace, or restricted airspace if active, or above 400ft AGL. This typically costa $480 per job, and for each subsequent job in the same location, this is passed on to my clients.

    For all those attempting to turn a business using RPA, consider the cost from scratch:

    1. High quality UAV with support and software $40k to $100k for professional long range durable systems ( I have done over 600 missions on one platform and map on average 1-2km2 each job. No elcheapo eBay job is going to do that)
    2. Type training for each type of UAV you fly, $3k each sometimes more
    3. Cost of UOC, $3-5k depending on how many systems, and the type of work ( this excludes your personal time, I spent $10k of my own time developing the UOC)
    4. Insurance, $3-5k per year up to $20m coverage plus loss of hull in flight and transport and on ground
    5. Depending on what you capture a workstation PC with (in my case) multiple xeon CPUs (2x16 cores for me), 64GB ram, lost of HD space, etc $5-$7k

    I was lucky to have an established business which could pay for this and last year our RPA division was responsible for our biggest client earning $20k a month.

      Forgot to add you need an AROCOP radio certificate, only $120 but also a $300 VHF transmitter.

    Firstly these are Not Drones! CASA refer to these as Remotely Piloted Aircraft or RPA. A drone is an aircraft that the U.S. Military use to kill innocent people!
    Secondly I'm all for the rules as safety is always first. It's too easy for a photographer to go out and spend $1000 on a Phantom 2 Vision and not know how to operate it properly though if they're doing it for their business I'm sure they would b more inclined to learn about them. The down side is they have no interest in the mechanical side of these aircraft (this was a comment on the rcgroups.com forum from a photographer who just bought one

      Yes, they are drones. Check your dictionary.

      The ones the military uses are *also* drones. They are also (read the words out to yourself) remotely piloted aircraft. If they are not remotely piloted, they are not drones, as part of the definition of "drone" is that a drone must be remotely controlled.

      Usung CASA's terminology is probably a good idea in this sort of context, but that does not make Luke's usage incorrect.

        Sorry I was re-reading this thread, and noticed that you have mentioned this many times.

        Just because it is in the Oxford Dictionary does not make the term technically correct.

        Also, CASA has changed the designation several times over the last 15 years, now RPA (Remotely piloted Aircraft) is the term of choice. This also limits the use to there being a Pilot in the loop for all commercial applications, immediately excluding any fully autonomous un-piloted systems, as No RPA/UA currently has the same "see and avoid" mechanism as a manned aircraft (pilot's eyes, cameras don't have the same dynamic resolution), over-the-horizon-flight approval in class G ("uncontrolled") airspace is not likely to be approved (doesn't mean impossible, but unlikely) anytime soon. (That being the case, while operation over the horizon is possible in lower classes of airspace ("controlled" airspace ), the necessity of having a craft with a similar performance envelope to manned craft flying at levels above 100 will limit this to significantly large, fast and expensive units, not your average hobby-shop quadcopter.

        The word vehicle was dropped from UAV (Unmanned/Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle), because it had no meaning in aviation law (just like "Drone", designating these craft as Aircraft allows existing statute law to be used effectively.

        So from a legal and aviation perspective, as you well know (due to previous responses) the Use of DRONE IS incorrect, though publicly understandable.

        PS, Im sure you have perused the CASA documents posted in OCtober and am well aware of all of this, I only post it for general information to others, your rebuttal has just given an opportunity to clarify points.


        Last edited 28/09/15 2:55 pm

          (Edit: going back to the original article, the context used IS clearly CASA regulations, so using CASA definitions is actually the sane alternative, leading much of my reply below irrelevant. That said, I leave the text intact, as the key point that context is king when using jargon is often ignored.)

          Devil's advocate, perhaps.

          When a person uses a term in a manner with which you disagree, they are not necessarily wrong.

          They are "drones". They are NOT "drones according to CASA standards." Just as megabyte can be 2^10 bytes or 10^6 bytes, depending on context, despite the ISO saying that the latter is a megabyte and the former is a mibibyte. (The former is still used almost universally in reference to RAM sizes.)

          The CASA (and legal) definitions of drone are jargon. Non-jargon usage is not incorrect, except in a context where aerial or legal jargon is normal and expected. A discussion on Gizmodo is not one of those places, unless you explicitly specify such a context.

          The tomato is legally defined in some places as a vegetable, even though it is a fruit. This does not make calling a tomato a fruit incorrect in those places. It only makes it incorrect in a specific context.

          In the absence of technical context, I would rather call a spade a spade, rather than a manual leverage-assisted device for movement of ground materials.

          Last edited 31/12/14 1:39 am

    I was gonna buy a second just in case i kept on crashing it!
    Anyone want two obsolete Parrott's?

    i was seriously not impressed when a drone appeared on my third level balcony. When I started filming the drone using my iPad it took off. I later discovered it was being operated by a real estate agent who was taking photos of a house some distance from mine. What about privacy? Is it too much to expect that we can still have some privacy in our homes? I have spoken to the real estate agent about this.

      CASA only deals with flying safety not privacy. There are already privacy laws in place to deal with that.

      just "swat" it with a fly-exterminator (shooter), oops. crash, oh crap, those quads aren't very stable.


      I'm with you, Lorraine. My wife and I were drone-buzzed when hiking recently - it came to within a metre of our heads. I would expect there is a growing market for devices that can bring down intrusive drones. If a drone landed anywhere on my property, I would certainly destroy it.

      Did you know that the photos or videos can be fuzzed out? So that only the important part of it, is still visible..

    What about civilian rights to privacy? I guess that doesn't count eh?

      Flying a drone has nothing to do with privacy, it's whether or not the drone has a camera. CASA are only interested in the Flyingsafety aspects. The privacy issue is another authority's issue.

    Why are the rules like this!!!!!!!!?????????????????????????????? (btw i live in australia) these rules are going to be hard to follow

      For the safety of aircraft and people.

      I feel your frustration, but unfortunately the damage has already been done and the only way to minimize or eliminate further damage, from individuals that does not care about safety, is by introducing these tough rules.....

      I've been in the RC hobby for years and let me tell you, there has never been accidents, where some idiot flew it into the side of a bridge or a crowd of people. The rules have always been followed and in addition, the safety side of things have never been violated.

      Since drones are much easier to fly than RC airplanes or helicopters, those untrained/uneducated people think they know everything, as result, people like us have to suffer for their consequences.

      That really pisses me off...

    I've never got to have a drone

    Last edited 23/11/14 1:08 pm

      If you do plan on having one, PLEASE, do some formal training.... It makes you a more educated user...

      Last edited 30/12/15 1:47 pm

    Why are they so hard to follow? A lot is just common sense really, staying away from large crowds, airports and not flying too high just make sense

      Not everyone has commonsense plus there are irresponsible idiots out there who think of no one but themselves

    A kiwi having fun with his drone
    A night drone. This guy must be breaking a lot of rules in his country?

    so um, if my neighbour flies his phantom 2 over my backyard again am I allowed to have at it with my pressure washer?

      If it crashes, hits property or injures someone, they'll all sue you lol.

        lol. no you sue them ...

          No, they will sue you, because you caused the injury to others, furthermore, you caused damage to their property as well.

          Last edited 30/12/15 1:50 pm

    From this I would say that flying over the water near a beach or filming a road while flying over a nearby paddock should be OK. Am I being optimistic or do you agree with me??????

      If there's noone around (or in direct proximity) in those scenarios then they are pretty much perfect.

    Interesting rules. It is good to see some regulations put in place for the safety of unsuspecting crowds but I hope warnings are issued before fines for first time offenders.

      Issuing a fine, should serve as their 1st warning, and as a reminder not do it again. If they prove to be ignorant, with no respect to others safety. Then, they should be prosecuted.

      Last edited 30/12/15 1:55 pm

    They certainly will ! but if you are a kid with no assets what then?

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