10th September, 2018

Playing the “game of drones” according to the rules

Small businesses have leapt into using drones for marketing purposes. In fact, they’ve been so prolific that now there’s a whole new set of rules just for them.

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) have slowly transitioned from the world of sci-fi into the real world – and small businesses have been using them.

Now, it’s all about capturing slick aerial footage for marketing but tomorrow may see small businesses get into the delivery game.

On the face of it, while using drones may seem fun, harmless and quite cool.

But it’s important to note that there are a number of government regulations relating to commercial use of drones that are likely to affect you – especially now CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) is paying attention to small businesses.

Up until a year ago, CASA had two sets of rules – one for recreational users, and one for commercial users.

It meant that a corner café was covered by the same rules as industrial titans.

But due to the increase in businesses using small sized drones in Australia for various commercial purposes, CASA decided to divide commercial drone users into a further two sub-categories:

  • Commercial use of drones that weigh under 2kg
  • Commercial use of drones that weigh more than 2kg

Before the changes, flying a drone for commercial purposes (regardless of its weight) involved the investment of quite a lot of time and some thousands of dollars.

It required a training process, purchasing and reading of manuals, submitting documents and paying substantive fees to CASA.

Now, it’s a lot simpler for small businesses.

The new system for smaller operators

The company using the drone (under 2kg) first needs to apply for an Aviation Reference Number (ARN) which involves filling out a simple two-page application form.

After that, the company needs to let CASA know before they start flying each drone by using the online application form – a form that once filled out stays relevant for three years.

That having been said, if the company changes their drone, gets another drone or changes the location of operation, they need to refill the online application form.

The next step in the process is to make sure that the person flying the drone operates it within the standard operation conditions (outlined on the CASA website), and to download the “Can I Fly There?” mobile application so they don’t fly into restricted areas.

Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in fines that range between $1,000 and $10,000 and over 40 fines were handed out last year – so it’s worthwhile to err on the side of caution.

Regardless of which category your drone might fall into, there are some important guidelines that the government require you to adhere to.

Drone best practice

Peter Gibson, Corporate Communications Manager at CASA, broke the guidelines down into four critical areas.

“Don’t fly drones near people, never fly anywhere near aircrafts, make sure not to operate a drone at night and never fly a drone in an emergency area.” Gibson told The Pulse.

This can have disastrous consequences.

Recently in North Queensland, there was a case where a drone flying around an area affected by bushfire forced the landing of emergency helicopters nearby.

Because the drone was unregistered, CASA thought it was a danger to other aircraft in the area.

This caused significant delays in fighting the fire.

CASA opened a full-fledged investigation to investigate who the drone belonged to, and plan to issue a significant fine (up to $10,000) to its operator.

Lochie Burke, co-founder and CMO of JAR-Aerospace, said following best practice was all about teamwork with the regulator and other users.

“In the end of the day,” Burke explained, “the more professional people are with their commercial drone usage, the easier it will be for drone technology to reach its full potential.”

“There’s still quite a lot of scepticism around drone safety amongst the general public, but if you’re across the rules that are relevant to your operational environment, you’ll be playing your part in lessening the stigma and settling the concerns that the general public may have.”