From Gatwick to Kingsford Smith: clarifying the drone rules around Aussie airports.

Published: 23 December 2018

With the recent foolish use of drones by a couple in London who created huge delays for Gatwick airport, your interest may have been sparked as to the rules and obligations surrounding the use of drones around Australian airports.

While common sense would indicate not to fly your drone anywhere near an airport or aeroplane, here are 10 tips concerning the rules around flying your drones near Australian aerodromes.

[1] In general, you are not allowed to fly your drone within 3 nautical miles (NM) i.e. 5.556km of the movement area of a controlled aerodrome.

The movement area of an aerodrome is the part of the aerodrome used for the take-off, landing and taxiing of aircraft, consisting of the manoeuvring area and the apron(s). The ‘apron’ is the part of an aerodrome used for the purposes of loading or unloading passengers, mail or cargo, fuelling, parking, or maintenance.

A controlled aerodrome is one with an active traffic control tower.

[2] Flying within 3 NM of a controlled aerodrome without permission carries a penalty of up to 25 “penalty units”; 1 penalty unit = $210; so a sting to the tune of $5,250.

[3] You can get clearance to operate your drone within 3 NM of an aerodrome but this requires approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and/or the air traffic control (ATC) of that aerodrome. This generally involves writing to either CASA or the ATC providing your details, and the date and time and details of your proposed flight.

[4] There is a separate offence if you operate your drone in a way that creates an obstruction to an aircraft taking off from, or approaching for landing at, a landing area or a runway of an aerodrome. The penalty is up to $5,250.

[5] The Regulations also refer to the Part 101 Manual of Standards (Part 101 MOS). The Part 101 MOS is still in draft form and so it not yet applicable. Once the MOS is finalised I will be writing about it.

[6] The offences associated with flying near aerodromes are all ‘strict liability’ offences’. In general, this means that is does not matter if you did not intend to commit the offence – you can still get done for it (similar to speeding in a motor vehicle).

[7] “Micro” drones (gross weight of 100 grams or less) may be operated in controlled airspace, including within 3 NM of a controlled aerodrome, but must remain below 400 feet above ground level.

Controlled airspace is airspace within which an air traffic control service is provided to flights in accordance with the airspace classification.

[8] It is generally the responsibility of the drone pilot to determine whether there are any aerodromes within 3 NM of where you intend to fly. There are a number of technical ways to determine this but the most user-friendly way is through CASA’s ‘Can I Fly There?’ App.

[9] In respect of non-controlled aerodromes (no active air traffic control) you must not launch your drone within 3 NM of the movement area IF you are aware that a manned aircraft is operating to or from the aerodrome (unless you obtain approval from CASA).

[10] If you are flying a drone within 3NM of the movement area of a non-controlled aerodrome and become aware that an aircraft is operating to or from the aerodrome, you must:

(a)   immediately ensure that your drone is safely manoeuvred away from the path of the manned aircraft; and

(b)   land the drone as soon as safely possible.

If you have any questions or need any legal advice on this, please be in touch. Merry Christmas and all the best for a pleasant festive season.

Fly Free!

The Drone Lawyer

23 December 2018