Postcard from Drones

Right now in Australia, if you want to fly a drone as a hobby, good for you. Buy one, switch it on and try not to crash. Too often.

But if you want to make money, then you need to have a UAV Controller Certificate from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). You are going to need some formal training as CASA want evidence of 5 hours flight time on the drone you intend to operate. This is usually referred to as manufacturer training , and it doesn't restrict the mnodel you can fly, it's an initial proof of competance. Just to make it a bit more confusing, this only allows you to work for someone who owns a UAV Operator Certificate. So, if you're going to be self-employed, you need to get both.

These allow you to fly commercially, but not within about 5.5km of Controlled Airspace (an airfield, airport or heliport), not above 400 feet and not over populated areas. In reality, for drone owners who live outside urban areas, the certification is often ignored. After all, there's no other air traffic around, and on-one is going to check up on you.

On 1st April, CASA modified the rules a bit. From October 2016, if you fly in rural areas you won't you don't need a certificate. They've recognised reality and changed the rules to match. However, if you want to fly close to other people, the rules haven't changed at all. You still need the certification, and may need the radio operators license as well.

Note that these changes only refer to the lighter drones - anything weighing less than 2kg. That covers a lot of machines, but not usually those used for higher quality video or imaging work. For that category, the current rules still apply.

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