Crackdown on drone use
In 2002 Australia became the first country to write legislation for drones - small, pilotless aircraft. At the time few people knew what a drone was or why legislation was necessary.
Fast forward to 2014 and drones were becoming so popular they were used by surf photgraphers to capture hirtherto unattainable angles. That year Swellnet wrote an article investigating their use. We spoke to Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) about the guessing game they were playing writing laws for a fast-moving technology.
“It's hard to write enforceable legislation when we don't know where the technology will be in a few years," said CASA spokesperson Peter Gibson at the time.
Now, exactly five years after Gibson said that, CASA have announced a crackdown on drone use. From July, anyone who wants to fly a drone in Australia will have to be accredited by CASA. The mandatory license will, according to Peter Gibson who's still CASA's spokseperson "give us big advantages in terms of complaints or reports of drones being flown improperly or against the safety rules."
By forcing all users to register, CASA will discover how many users there are. "For the first time we'll have an overall picture of the drone sector…probably there are tens of thousands, possibly even 100,000, but at this point we don't know," Mr Gibson said.
Though their popularity with surf photographers has plateaued, drones are still used to shoot the overhead angle. However, they're sometimes flown illegally, whether it be unregistered pilots using them for commercial purposes (commercial use currently requires a license), or flying drones in no-fly zones.
For example, every airport in Australia has a 5km no fly zone, which counts out surf spots such as the Superbank, Lennox Head, and parts of the Sunshine Coast. Yet drone footage from each is still easy to find.
So will the new regulations see a reduction in drone photography? In the short term it's unlikely. Using PWC's as an analogy, self-regulation didn't work, and it wasn't till laws were enforced that behaviour changed. Yet policing drones is harder than PWCs. They're smaller, more manouveable, and carry no unique markings.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority appear destined to forever play catch up with drone technology.