Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), commonly referred to as ‘drones’, are becoming increasingly popular, particularly those fitted with camera equipment, which allow both professional and amateur operators to capture aerial footage like never before.
While the vast majority of operators fly safely, as the popularity of drones increases, so too does the likelihood of them being flown when it’s not safe to do so.
This applies especially to emergency situations such as bushfires, floods, traffic accidents and other events that might tempt people to fly drones when they shouldn’t.
Bushfires – ‘If you fly, they can’t’
Never fly a drone, model aircraft or multirotor near bushfires. While it might be tempting to record footage, you can pose a major safety risk to firefighting personnel in the air and on the ground.
Even a small drone can represent a safety risk to manned aircraft. Due to this risk, firefighting aircraft can be grounded if other unauthorised aircraft are spotted near firefighting operations, as was the case in the United States.
Firefighters on the ground also depend on aerial support to help supress and contain fires. By flying your drone, you not only put their lives in danger, but also the lives of the people and property they’re trying to protect.
Aircraft—both manned and unmanned—that are not coordinated through the state or territory fire authority are requested to remain clear of aerial firefighting operations.
CASA is working closely with state and territory firefighting services and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) to help raise awareness around the dangers of drone operators flying near bushfire-affected areas.
Floods, traffic accidents and other emergency situations
There are countless other instances where flying your drone might make the situation worse for all those involved. The efforts of emergency services in situations like floods, traffic accidents, police operations and search and rescue activities often incorporate aircraft for aerial support.
During these operations, emergency services are often stretched to capacity and cannot afford to be disrupted by unauthorised aircraft of any kind, including drones.
Flying with control?
As well as the restrictions on flying near bushfires or other emergency operations, there are safety regulations surrounding flying drones for recreation that are detailed in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) subparts 101.
These rules are under review, but currently they include:
- You must operate the aircraft only in your line-of-sight in daylight. Don’t let it get too far away from you.
- You must not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.
- You must not fly over any populous area, such as beaches, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.
- If you are in controlled airspace – which covers most Australian cities – you must not fly higher than 400 feet (120 metres).
- You should not fly within 5.5 km of an airfield.