If You Want to Fly a Drone Legally in Australia There’s Just One Website You Need To Know About
There’s little doubt in my mind that the rules governing the use of drones in Australia are unreasonable and excessive. Those rules were written by people more used to regulating the safe flight of helicopters than tiny remote control devices and they do not reflect how drones perform in the real world or how incredibly strong their track record is around safety.
But that’s an argument for another day.
You have two choices regarding flying your drone here in Oz. You can either ‘send it’ and risk a knock at the door from the man from CASA or you can fly within the law and suck it up. While only a tiny percentage of people have ever been prosecuted for contravening the rules around drone usage, it has happened and it’s always a possibility. I’m not your mother and I’m not about to tell anyone how to fly their drone – we all make our own decisions about this and we have to live with whatever consequences come our way as a result.
Law and Order
The problem with trying to fly legally here in Australia (as with most countries) is that everyone sticks their oar in. From the local council, to the state government, to the federal government, to national parks, to the commonwealth parks, to the private land-owners, to parks and wildlife, to CASA – they all have their own rules and regulations.
Previously finding out about this stuff meant checking five different websites, then cross-referencing it with airspace charts. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, dear friends, allow me to give you (just about) the only website you’ll ever need to consult – OK2Fly.
The folks over at OK2Fly have done what CASA should have – they’ve taken as many of the sources of information about drones and combined them into a single service which enables you to be much better information about where you’re flying.
Perhaps the best feature of OK2Fly is its realtime restricted airspace indicator. Restricted airspace is a zone of airspace that is ring-fenced and within which controls are placed on all aircraft (including drones) above and beyond the normal rules about heights etc.
By way of example, let’s have a look at my home patch. I live within the confines of an area of restricted airspace called R421A. This exists due to the Fleet Air Arm base in Nowra from which military aircraft (mainly helicopters) operate. The goods news is that R421A (and its adjoining zones) are not always active and that there are times of the day and days of the week when I can fly my drone.
Previously, finding out when that airspace is active was a nightmare. I could either attempt to decipher the official NOTAMs (complete with conversion from universal time to NSW time) or I could use an app. There are a couple of apps, (designed for actual pilots, not muppets like me with remote control lunchboxes) that will show when the airspace is active or not, but setting them up is a shit-fight and they have annual fees of over $100.
Now all I have to do is fire up OK2Fly and it shows me instantly if I can fly or not. Take a look at the screenshot to the left and you can see that it also shows when the airspace is active, and I can see that at the moment I can fly in the mornings up until 10am and avoid the wrath of the sheriffs. When that circles’s dark red it’s not legal to fly and when it’s just an outline, I can legally fly. Easy peasy.
The Other Stuff
OK2Fly includes a good deal of information in addition to the status of any nearby restricted airspace. This includes the location of airfields and helipads which may have aircraft taking off and landing near them and which may have an exclusion zone.
Here’s how the map looks in nearby Kiama. If I position the marker near the helipad on the harbour then I can see immediately that I “Can Fly – With Conditions”. I can also see the radio frequency used at this location and if I owned a VHF radio I could tune it in and listen for any approaching aircraft
The map includes a wealth of useful information to make your drone flying a bit easier, including the selected location’s elevation, national park locations, wind farms, sporting fields and flight corridors.
If you’re planning to fly somewhere new then OK2Fly is the perfect tool to use because not only does it give you all the information I mention above, but you can use the time option in the toolbar to select a time and date and view any restrictions for that location at that time.
The team behind OK2Fly have done a great job of bringing some clarity to what is a ludicrously convoluted situation. It’s not perfect of course and there is information from some land-owners that determines whether you can take off or not, but it’s already more useful than OZRunways and that costs $100 a year in subscription fees.
You should of course, always remember one crucial rule – once your drone is in the air, it falls under the legal regulations of CASA and there is literally nothing that any land-owner or organisation can say on the subject once it leaves terra firma.