As drone ownership becomes more common, the number of people breaking the law by illegal use is also increasing, prompting national boutique law firm Parke Lawyers to urge users to seek legal advice to avoid hefty fines.

Parke Lawyers Managing Director Mr Jim Parke says while the number of fines being issued is minimal, authorities are cracking down and new regulations are being mooted at state and national levels. Fines are also increasing, with most now being in excess of $1,000. Typically, illegally operating a drone can incur a fine of between $1,000 and$10,000.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) issued 30 fines in 2017 and has issued 40 this year but admits that fining drone users for illegal use can be difficult.

While people may see a drone flying, they will often not see who is flying it and CASA mainly relies on witness statements along with video and photo evidence before it can issue a fine.

Social media is playing a role in increased surveillance by CASA and the authority has warned users they are using it to help prosecute illegal activity. It has also launched a Can I Fly There app which uses live GPS to show where a drone can and cannot be flown.

A NSW man recently found out the cost of flaunting CASA’s drone regulations when fined $1,000 after he crashed his drone into the Eureka Tower in Melbourne. He has also told the media that one of his friends had been fined from social media evidence and people reporting him.  Earlier this year, CASA reported that a man had been fined $1,050 for flying his drone over Brisbane’s Ed Sheeran concert.  Apparently, Queensland police identified the man and provided CASA with the evidence of the drone flight.

As drones provide users with a bird’s eye view of society that has not been available before, ownership is surging and it is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 150,000 privately-operated drones in Australia.

The technology also provides commercial opportunities for photographers, real estate agents, architects, builders, building inspectors, farmers, security workers, traffic authorities, law enforcement officers and the like.

Mr Parke says recreational and commercial use has led to increasing concerns about security and privacy, prompting authorities to initiate regulatory action.

A quick scan across Instagram shows countless drone photos and videos shot illegally in Australia, some of which show multiple regulations broken in the one flight.

“Good advice can reduce the risk of costly litigation regarding security, privacy and trespass issues,” Mr Parke says.

“Before taking flight with a drone, it is important to have a full understanding of what you are seeking to achieve and whether or not it is lawful to do so.

He says the CASA regulations for flying drones recreationally in Australia include:

  • You must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres above the ground;
  • You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway;
  • You must not fly your drone within 30 metres of people, unless the other person is part of controlling or navigating the drone;
  • You must fly only one drone at a time;
  • If your drone weighs more than 100 grams, you must keep your drone at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes;
  • You must only fly during the day;
  • You must keep your drone within visual line of sight;
  • You must not fly over or above people. This could include festivals, sporting ovals, populated beaches, parks, busy roads and footpaths.
  • You must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person, or property
  • You must not operate your drone in prohibited or restricted areas.

Local council and/or national park laws also prohibit drone flights in certain areas.  Some councils have introduced policies that limit the use of drones to a very small number of locations.

Mr Parke adds, “In light of the complex privacy and security issues around drone use, I strongly urge any individual or business considering taking to the skies for commercial purposes to seek legal advice.”