The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is currently undertaking a review of the regulation of remotely piloted aircraft (otherwise known as drones). It is considering (amongst other things), whether mandatory registration, education and training for operators should be introduced.
There are yet to be any reported decisions of any civil or criminal actions in Australia being taken against drone operators who have caused injury or damage through their use of drones. However, CASA is actively pursuing operators who breach drone safety legislation.
A widely reported incident involved a drone that crashed into a triathlete during the Geraldton Endure Batavia Triathlon in Western Australia in April 2014. The triathlete was reported to have been struck in the head by a drone that had fallen from the sky whilst filming the race and sustained lacerations to the head.1 The matter was referred by CASA to the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions but the Department chose not to prosecute on the basis that the crash was caused by radio interference rather than any action by the operator.2 It has not been reported that the injured athlete has commenced any civil claim against the operator.
Earlier this year, a done operator was fined AUD 900 for flying too low to a Canberra Easter egg hunt. Similarly, the operator of a drone flying at and in the vicinity of wedding guests in regional New South Wales was fined AUD 900. An operator was also fined AUD 1,440 for flying a drone in restricted airspace in Sydney Harbour and within 30 metres of members of the public.3
Given the increasing sophistication of these aircraft, the veritable explosion in their usage, their capacity to carry payloads and their ability to travel vast distances, the potential for injury or damage resulting from drone operations is ever increasing. Add to that the fact that usage in restricted airspace could attract criminal as well as civil liability and CASA's response to these growing issues will need to be comprehensive. CASA's report is due to be released at the end of 2017.
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