The inside word on flying drones indoors…

Published: 3 February 2019

Updated: 2 May 2019


The hotly anticipated (ok maybe it was only me) Part 101 Drone Manual of Standards (MOS) was released on 9 April 2019. In our last article, we outlined the content of the MOS. Most of the content won’t become enforceable for another 12-18 months, yet a few parts are active from release date.

One of the immediately active parts of the MOS is Chapter 1. I was having a dig through Chapter 1 and just as my shovel broke, I noticed the definition of an ‘indoors operation’, which I think is worth unpacking. So here goes…

To be classified as an ‘indoors operation’ your drone must be flown in circumstances which meet ALL of the following 4 requirements (which I have adapted from the MOS for ease of understanding):

[a] the drone is flown within a building, or another structure, or a naturally occurring or man-made space underground; defined as a ‘containment area’;

[b] in the containment area, it is physically impossible for the drone to escape and fly away during normal, abnormal or emergency operations;

[c] entry and exit of people to/from the containment area is controlled in such a way that when flying a drone in the containment area, the drone pilot will not infringe any provision of Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) concerning proximity of a drone to people within or outside the containment area;

[d] in the event that a drone collides with any part of the containment area, no material from the drone or the containment area can move or escape and cause injury to a person outside the containment area.

This definition dovetails with section 101.005(4) of the CASR which states that a flight does not take place indoors if the building in which it takes place has the roof, or 1 or more walls, removed.


Super-executive summary…

[1] Any drone flown indoors must not be operated in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property.

[2] A drone flown indoors for recreational purposes does not seem to be subject to the standard operating conditions.

[3] An excluded category drone flown indoors for a commercial purpose generally remains subject to the standard operating conditions.

[4] These are general prohibitions, which can potentially be relaxed or modified by way of application to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and satisfaction of its requirements.

Break it down now…

[5] CASA provides some solid guidance on flying your drone indoors as follows:

[a] CASA’s Advisory Circular AC 101-10v1.3 states at that ‘The need to keep the RPA more than 30 m from people not associated with the safe operation of the aircraft, to avoid populous areas and to not create a hazard to other people or property would generally rule out Excluded RPA operations indoors.’

[b] Moreover, CASA’s website at this page states the following:

‘Can I Fly my RPA indoors and take photographs?

– you must not operate an unmanned aircraft in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property

– you must not fly closer than 30 metres (or under certain conditions, 15m) of people

– you must not fly over any populous area.’

[6] The above from the horse’s mouth provides a very useful high-level summary. I’m now going into the horse’s stable to take a look at the regulations for some further insight. Giddy-up!

[7] Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) contains the primary provisions applying to drones and contains sub-parts ‘101.A’ through to ‘101.I’ (and some sub-subparts which gets lawyers frothing but which doesn’t matter for present purposes).

[8] The CASR provides that ‘Subparts 101.C to 101.I do not apply to the operation of…a model aircraft indoors’, but that subpart 101.B does apply ‘to the operation of all unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft)’. It’s tedious but important to unpack this, stay with me…

[a] Model aircraft under CASR means an aircraft that is used for sport or recreation, and cannot carry a person. So, this seems to exclude drones used for commercial purposes.

[b] Subpart 101.B does apply to flying a drone indoors whether recreationally or commercially. So what does subpart 101.B say? The primary provision of subpart 101.B is the stipulation that ‘A person must not operate an unmanned aircraft in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property.’ [101.005(1)]. Therefore, any drone flown indoors is subject to this subpart.

[9] So if subparts 101.C to 101.I do not apply to drones used recreationally indoors, then the ‘standard operating conditions’ (contained in subpart 101.F) do not apply indoors, including:

[a] visual line of sight requirement;

[b] no operation within 30 metres of a person who is not directly associated with the operation;

[c] no flying over a ‘populous area’;

[d] operating a single drone at a time

[10] Micro drones (weighing less than 100 grams) are not subject the standard RPA operating conditions, but seem to be subject to the general subpart 101.B provision.

[11] The exclusion of subparts 101.C to 101.I to ‘model aircraft’, that is, drones used or sport or recreation, indicates that these provisions, including the standard operating conditions, continue to apply to drones flown indoors for a commercial purpose.

If you have any comments, or if you have a different view or interpretation, please be in contact. I am always open to discussion on these issues.

Finally, the above is information, not legal advice. As a result, it should not be relied upon as it is not tailored to your specific circumstances. If you would like legal advice then please be in touch.

Fly Free!

The Drone Lawyer

3 February 2019