As pressure mounts for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to release guidelines for domestic drone flights by 2015, regulators in Australia are already launching stacks of educational leaflets aimed at Australian hobbyists.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Australia’s equivalent to the FAA) announced it would distribute about 100,000 informational leaflets to various hobby-store outlets “spelling out the rules” for UAV flights.
The CASA said the guidelines became necessary after two high-profile incidents. In April, a drone allegedly hit an athlete running a triathlon in Western Australia while another drone crashed into Sydney’s Harbour Bridge in November.
In March, a drone nearly collided with a rescue helicopter. The drone in question exceeded the legal height restrictions of 120 meters (393 feet) by flying up to 300 meters (984 feet).
In response, the head of the Australian Certified UAV Operators Association, Joe Urli, called for CASA to step up funding for greater enforcement.
Urli told The Australian:
“Illegal unmanned aircraft operations are on the rise in Australia and the question of whether there will be a serious safety incident is no longer theoretical given last week’s reported near-miss incident involving a Westpac rescue helicopter. Under-resourcing of the regulatory and compliance management capacities of CASA is not an option, as the unmanned aircraft industry continues its rapid growth, not just in Australia, but internationally.”
The leaflet, which will be handed to consumers at the time of drone purchase, reminds pilots that “it’s illegal to fly for money or economic reward unless you have an unmanned operator’s certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.”
The increase in drone-rules education comes at a time when UAV sales are skyrocketing in Australia. Ryan Hamlet of I-Drone, an Australian drone vendor, told the Daily Telegraph:
“We are struggling to keep up the demand. They’ve become really popular because the costs are more reasonable and also because you can fly them straight out of the box. Before, you used to have to be a bit of tinkerer to set one up.”
Fines against Australian drone operators appear to be few and nominal. For example, the operator who crashed his drone into the Harbour Bridge was fined $850 – peanuts compared to the potential fine imposed on pilot Raphael Pirker by the FAA. The the Swiss videographer faced a $10,000 after he filmed a commercial using a UAV. A federal judge overturned the fine on appeal but the FAA is now appealing that decision. In 2011, Pirker faced federal trouble after park rangers at the Grand Canyon National Parker fined him $325 for flying a drone over the Grand Canyon and confiscated footage he filmed.
In keeping with this modus operandi, the FAA threatened a similar fine against storm chaser and videographer Brian Emfinger last week after he captured video footage of recent tornadoes that blasted across Arkansas recently. In late April, the agency fined David Zablidowsky $2,200 for piloting a drone into two New York buildings before crashing it into a sidewalk.