Drones have been increasingly in the news lately and in most cases it is usually a complete beat up about “near misses” and deadly drone dangers. Now lets be clear, there are idiots out there and YouTube is full of videos of idiots with drones doing things that are not only stupid but in a lot of cases illegal. But and this is a big but there are an estimated 50-80000 drones in Australia and the vast majority of people are sensible and fly their drone within the law. There have also been exactly ZERO incidents with regards to collisions between Aircraft and Drones but hey sensible, forward thinking regulation can be a way to make sure that the number stays at zero.
In Australia CASA has a long history of mostly sensible drone(or UAV) regulation and in September 2016 CASA introduced amendments CASR 101 which governs drones. These changes were widely regarding as cutting red tape and allowing for a good balance between safety and consumer usability. Essentially they allowed for the unlicensed commercial use of drones under 2KG so long as they followed the standard operating procedures listed in the document (all commons sense rules). This meant that the average consumer could take some video or photos with their drone and following a few simple rules be able to use that footage for commercial purposes, one of the things that this fixed was that if you place drone footage on YouTube and then monetized the video. Technically your $0.02 in ad revenue meant you were breaking the law. Now think about that, before the change if you wanted to sell the pictures or video you took with your drone, be it a $100 toy or a $2000+ prosumer drone you had to fork out anywhere between $6000 to $10000. So common sense prevailed and everyone lived happily ever after…… Or Not
It seems that some groups didn’t like the new changes, namely companies who had paid the approximately $AU6000-$AU10000 to become licensed drone operators and the businesses who charge upwards of $AU5000 for the training to become a licensed operator. They started making claims that the end of day were coming and that we would have people taking down A380 jets with their drones, the country side was going to be littered with destroyed planes and a massive body count, now if you think I am being hyperbolic have a look here and here. Funny thing is none of these groups said anything until these laws were changed and the ONLY thing they changed was to allow sub 2KG drones to be flown commercially (there is also a provision to allow farmers to use larger drones on their private property) so it seems the Australian and airspace were perfectly safe until their income stream was potentially disrupted.
Now other groups are also calling for these regulations to be changed, Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Civil Air Australia to name a few (special mention to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers who see potential $$$$ in this issues so have jumped on the bandwagon), and again none had made much of a fuss before hand. Regardless some of those figures the quote look pretty damning, 150 reported incidents in the last year, now I am not sure how many of those are actually verified and how many are just “shopping bags” but taking their word for it I think we can all agree that number is about 150 higher than most people are comfortable with, except a quick look at the ATSB website will allow you to look at the number of ‘incidents’ in Australian airspace on the last 12 months, if you narrow it down to just separation incidents you find 122 incidents of full size aircraft failing to keep proper separation. Now remember these are not drone incidents they are full size aircraft incidents where the outcome of a collision is likely to be devastating, yet I don’t see much comment from either the media or industry groups about these statistics nor do I see call demanding tougher legislation etc etc etc. I am in no way implying that drone incursions nothing to worry about or that nothing should be done because CASA is doing something they have been taking a measured and consultative approach and they have been working with stakeholder to keep the regulation in line with the developing technology indeed many countries have actually been looking to how Australia has been handling these issues as a guide to moving forward with their own rules.
So the obscurely named Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport conducted a review of current Drone laws, a lot of this was spurred on by Nick XenoPhon. He started to appear in the media usually, accompanied by people who had a commercial interest in see the changes reversed, spouting a bunch of ill informed nonsense. Pretty much par for the course for a politician who can see free media and potential headline from a mile away. So move on a few months the committee sets up a not very well publicised inquiry and asks for submissions (and have themselves a jaunt to Dalby ???). Now they receive 79 submission quite a few of them from companies with a vested interest who apparently had no fears for the safety of the public until it looked like costing them money, plus submissions from MAAA(which mostly seemed to be a plea to be relevant), QANTAS and Defence (bonus points for linking drones to terrorism) and most hypocritical of all a few individuals who had been operating commercially under the sub 2KG rule and now that they are licensed want the rule removed. There were also submissions asking the committee to look at how the current rules are slowing innovation within the Autonomous Drone sector .
Well it seems that if you want to truly screw things up give a group of politicians the chance. after everything they released this statement to the media(see below). They basically phoned it in and ignored everyone and made a 3 recommendations that will be difficult to impossible to police. In particular “Registration and tracking – the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) should be empowered to track all individual drones, starting with the registration of all drones, regardless of their size or intended use;” So your $10 toy drone better be registered or else.
Finally if we look around the world for prosecutions for drone related offences we find that almost all them have been charged under existing laws so creating new laws to cover the same thing seems to be an exercise in bureaucracy than safety.
— Australian Senate (@AuSenate) May 10, 2017