Construction businesses now risk fines of up to $11,100 for flying unregistered commercial drones in Australia and without the appropriate accreditation or licence.

The New Commercial Drone Legislation

Do you operate a commercial drone for non-recreational or business purposes? Be warned that under new commercial drone laws, there are now serious consequences for flying drones that are not registered.

As of 28 January 2021, commercial drones, regardless of their weight, must be registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Registration is currently free until 30 June 2021, and each commercial drone will need to be re-registered each year. Further, drones flown for business will need to be flown by a pilot with Operator Accreditation, or a Remote Pilot’s Licence. This accreditation is:

  • free
  • can be completed online
  • valid for three years
  • mandatory to fly and supervise others

Recreational drones – people flying just for fun or sport – are not required to register their drones at this time.

Commercial drone operators face hefty fines, potential loss of insurance cover and sacrificing customers if their drones are not registered. Failure to register a drone could land operators with a fine of up to $11,100. Further, public liability insurance could be voided as operating an unregistered drone will be an illegal activity.

In addition, CASA is recommending people engaging a commercial drone operator now ask for evidence of registration before booking services.

Commercial Drones in the Construction Industry and the CASA Rules

More and more of the construction industry is using new drone technologies to assist in safely and securely carrying out building work. Clients may also consider using drones to monitor the progress of construction work and/or carry out inspections.

Drones are being used in the construction industry for a variety of purposes including:

  • Assessment, surveillance, monitoring and inspections of site conditions
  • Documenting construction progress pictures/videos for clients
  • Assisting with ongoing maintenance and damage assessment
  • Capturing the building for marketing and business development.

CASA maintain a list of general drone usage rules, known as the Standard Operating Conditions, to ensure the safety of shared airspace, drone operators and the general public.

Some of the key drone safety rules include:

  • You must fly your drone within your line of sight at all times.
  • You must not fly more than 120m above ground height.
  • You must keep your drone at least 30 metres away from other people, including neighbours.
  • You must fly in daylight, and not during fog/cloudy weather or at night.
  • You should not record or photograph people without their consent.
  • Further rules regarding drones near public places such as beaches, parks and helipads/airports may be relevant to your site as well.

The rules differ based on the size and category of your drone.

Frequently Asked Questions on Commercial Drone Usage

Q. What is an Aviation Reference Number?

Before applying for accreditation, registration, or a pilot licence, you will need to create a profile with CASA. Once CASA acknowledge your application, individuals and businesses will be assigned a unique identifier known as an Aviation Reference Number (ARN). You will need to reference this number each time you communicate with CASA.

Q. Does my drone need to be registered?

Yes. As per the new commercial drone laws, all commercial use drones in Australia to be registered with CASA. Registration is free for any drone registered before 30 June 2021, and it is valid for one year. You will need to re-register each drone annually.

Q. What is Accreditation and do I need it?

Operators of Excluded Category commercial drones will need to obtain Operator Accreditation by demonstrating an understanding of the current drone safety rules through an online quiz. Gaining accreditation is currently free, and lasts for up to 3 years. You do not need to get your Operator Accreditation if you hold a Remote Pilot Licence.

Q. Do I need a Remote Pilot Operator Certificate and how do I get one?

Individuals and businesses that wish to operate a Commercial Category drone, including those who wish to operate as a drone service provider, or who wish to hire a licenced drone operator, need to obtain a Remote Pilot Operator Certificate (ReOC). An application can be made for specific permissions to be attached to your ReOC allowing you to fly outside of the Standard Operating Conditions – such as operating your drone closer than 30m to other people. To obtain a ReOC you will need to complete and return the application forms provided by CASA, as well as pay the applicable assessment fee.

Q. Do I need a Remote Pilot Licence and how do I get one?

You will need to obtain a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) if you operate a Commercial Category drone. You will be required to complete theory and practical training through a certified training provider. Once you have completed your training you will to obtain a digital licence.

Q. Do penalties apply if I do not comply?

Yes. New penalties of up to $11,100 are enforceable if you operate a commercial use drone which has not been registered with CASA, or you do not hold a valid ReOC and/or RePL. Demerit points can also be applied to your licence or certificate.

Need Help?

These new rules can be difficult to navigate. If you would like help with respect to this area, please contact one of our experienced lawyers by clicking here to submit an online enquiry form, calling us on 1300 QUINNS or alternatively, +61 2 9223 9166 to arrange a teleconference or appointment

Want to Know more about Construction Law? See These Related Articles

https://www.quinns.com.au/blog/legal-news/the-top-ten-issues-facing-construction-industry-during-covid-19/

https://www.quinns.com.au/blog/when-to-suspend-construction-due-to-non-payment-for-works/

https://www.quinns.com.au/blog/the-top-5-contract-disputes-during-construction/

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