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Is Sky The Limit? 6 Legal Issues Drone Users Must Consider

drone remote control

As drones become more popular and affordable, the recreational use of Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is on the rise.

However, many drone users have no idea about the laws which regulate this type of activity. We’ve been hearing news about near misses between drones and other aircrafts frequently these days, so it seems that current or prospective drone users could use some legal advice.

Here are 6 legal issues all drone users should consider before putting their devices up in the air.

Know where you can’t fly

According to the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations from 1998, small drones which weigh 2kg or less can’t fly under the following conditions:

  • higher than 121m (400 feet) in a controlled airspace, which basically means any populated area;
  • closer than 30m to people who aren’t involved in flying the drone – and that includes takeoff, flight or landing;
  • over a group of people at a height where the drone’s potential component failure might cause it to land on people;
  • over or nearby prohibited or restricted areas, for example an aerodrome or restricted military areas;
  • less than 30m away from buildings, boats and vehicles;
  • in bad weather, clouds, or at night.

Do you need a license?

The recent legislation passed by the Federal Government allows a person to operate small drone (less than 2 kg) without any certification – but only as long as it’s operated following the standard RPA conditions.

Most of the time, recreational drone use involves smaller drones, so the majority of such users won’t need any license to fly their devices. However, if your drone weighs over 2kg, you need a CASA certification.

Can you fly your drone commercially?

Users who plan to use their drones for commercial gain will need a license to operate them, regardless of the drone’s size. Even if your drone weighs less than 2kg, you’ll need a license.

What does commercial gain mean exactly? Drone flights for advertising reasons or for producing videos which are then uploaded to YouTube can be interpreted as commercial, according to RPAS Training & Solutions.

If you want to fly a drone commercially in Australia, you need a RePL and/or ReOC license. You can gain it through CASA or a particular industry delegate.

Privacy and drones

The Australian Association for Unmanned Systems recently released a report where they called for tighter drone regulations, suggesting a ban on the use of drones to record private activities, as well as activities that happen when people don’t expect to be recorded.

In general, drone retailers have been recommended to include a pamphlet that emphasizes their responsibility not to monitor or disclose private activities of individuals without their consent.

Privacy is an important topic in recreational drone use. It’s likely that in the near future we’ll witness the introduction of laws that protect against privacy invasion by drones.

The problem of “flyaways”

Another significant problem drone users should consider is the issue of “flyaways”.

It’s possible to lose control of the drone and simple lose it. But who will be responsible for the potential losses caused by the flyaway drone? It could be the manufacturer, if the reason for the drone’s failure was technical.

The blame could also be assigned to the the wholesaler or retailer who failed to inform consumers about proper drone piloting procedures. Finally, it could also be the fault of the pilot who didn’t know how to operate the drone or who consciously violated some of its piloting procedures.

That matter is even more complicated if the said drone can’t be recovered – for example, if it flies away and drowns in a lake.

Unfortunately, in the majority of “flyaway” cases it is very easy to ascribe the fault, or at least a part of it, to the drone operator. That is why it is important to follow the drone’s piloting instructions and not test the drone’s limits. Following the rules is a great way to minimize the chances of losing control over your drone and having to worry about whether it caused some damage.

Drone crashes

What to do if your drone crashes? Insurance companies have been considering the assignment of blame in this type of accidents, and the matter seems to be quite complicated.

Just as in the case of the “flyaways” problem, a drone crash can be caused by anything from pilot’s to manufacturer’s fault.

It goes without saying that the skill level and education of the pilot serve as important factors. But the hardware and software design play a role as well, especially in protecting pilots from their own mistakes.

Drones are consumer technologies, so it’s the responsibility of the manufacturer to use all the available technological solutions to ensure that the operator, the machine, and the public are protected.

Key takeaways

As drones become more popular, they’re bound to figure as an important element in our technological landscape.

It’s clear that legislation should follow technological innovation in this regard. Many laws regarding the use of drones in public and private spaces are still in the making.

Just consider the problem of privacy as an example. Many drone users would agree that this could become a serious issue if footage of people who didn’t agree to be featured in the recording would end up published on the web.

These 6 legal issues are just the basics.

If you’ve got a drone, remember to keep an eye on legislation changes and introduction of new laws that might affect your use of the device.

LY LawyersLucy Taylor is a blogger specializing in criminal and education law, very passionate about legal issues and laws in everyday life. Currently, Lucy is supporting LY Lawyers, an expert law firm from Sydney