AIPP steps in on drone quarrel

The Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) has launched Special Interest Groups (SIG) to shape its position on the use of drones, and draft a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry which is investigating drone regulation and safety.

Senator O’Sullivan works closely with agriculture and small businesses, but is a vocal critic of current drone regulation.

The inquiry was instigated last year by Queensland Coalition senator Barry O’Sullivan (right), who is concerned the current Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulation will not keep up with the rapid development of the technology.

‘I felt that if we didn’t keep pace with this (drone technology), what would happen is we’d have some catastrophic event and then the reaction would be almost prohibitive on the use of these devices,’ he said. ‘I see an enormous future for them in agricultural applications and if I could put my view as simply as I can, I think that while ever it’s on the parameters of your property, subject only to the impact it might have on issues of workplace health and safety and issues to do with general aviation, beyond that I don’t think there should be any regulation.’

The Inquiry was due to deliver policy recommendations back in April, but has extended the date until December. Apparently CASA, which has a big role in overseeing the final recommendations, has been slow to act.

The appeal of drones to photographers – along with other commercial operators and consumers – is the ability to capture aerial footage.

‘The first SIG is about making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry on drones,’ Peter Myers, AIPP executive officer, explained to ProCounter. ‘Out of this inquiry one assumes there would be some legislation. Our submission will make sure that the photographer’s perspective is understood.’

The AIPP is seeking members to contribute to the SIG. So far its volunteers are Col Boyd, Peter Barnes, Brian Randall, Kevin O Daly, and Robert Horton.

ProCounter has covered the other SIG. It’s called Photographers Access Rights, and will be headed by AIPP treasurer and co-opted board member John Swainston. He will be joined by William Long, Chris Shain and Gavin Jowett.

The SIG will broadly cover photographing in public places and free movement of professional photographers, however drone usage is a major component of this group.

One aim for the group is ‘to ensure that as UAV (Drone) activity becomes more widespread the AIPP is a recognised body of national importance when the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Attorney General are considering legislation from either technical or privacy matters, with AIPP a considered voice at the table in any deliberations’.

It, too, is seeking members to join.

CASA updated the rules last year for drones weighing less than 2KG, which permits commercial usage without an operator certificate provided a number of rules are followed. The move was welcomed by professional photographers, and many other commercial operators who were unable to embrace the new technology due to the prohibitive regulation.

However politicians and aviation experts are concerned that future technology and public safety is not adequately covered by the current rules.

A public hearing for the inquiry took place in Dalby, Southern Queensland, in March.

Stakeholders from the agricultural industry showed five senators from the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee how the technology has revolutionised business practices, such as crop and livestock management, inspecting fencelines, and land surveying.

The purpose of this was to encourage the senators to not favour tighter commercial regulation. From O’Sullivan’s above quote, taken after the hearing, it appears he was persuaded. But he still wants tougher regulation for public commercial and recreational drone use.

Related: CR Kennedy offers free insurance to DJI customers

Gloves off in fight to tighten regulation
It’s the widespread and booming consumer appeal of drones that’s causing most concern.

A worse case scenario is an amateur causing a catastrophic mid-air collision with a passenger jet or other aircraft. Other risks include interfering with rescue operations or closing runways, causing serious injury to the public, and privacy concerns.

The CASA rules are in place to minimise these risks.

A CASA pamphlet provided to drone customers.

O’Sullivan, along with WA Labor senator, Glenn Sterle, the chairman of the inquiry, reportedly grilled CASA CEO Shane Carmody for defending the current regulation and downplaying the risk of a mid-air collision.

The senators both demand tougher drone regulation.

Peter Gibson, CASA corporate communications manager, told ProCounter that since the new rules were implemented there have been ’13 instances of enforcement action against sub-two kilo operators’. The majority are issued to recreational users, however some instances have involved commercial operators.

This number may soon reach 14, as CASA is investigating whether One Nation senator Pauline Hanson was filmed flying a drone over a street in Townsville!

‘It is too early to say if any safety rules may have been breached,’ Gibson told the ABC. ‘You must fly recreational drones more than 30 metres from people, not over crowds or groups of people, not cause a hazard to people, property or aircraft and stay under 400 feet in controlled airspace.’

In April, a guest at the wedding of TV presenter Sylvia Jeffreys flew a drone above the crowd as the groom popped a bottle of champagne in celebration. Jeffreys uploaded the footage to Instagram, resulting in CASA fining the guest $900 for ‘hazardous flying at and near guests’.

Another $900 fine was issued by CASA after a drone flew over a group of children at a Canberra Easter egg hunt.

And a $1440 fine was issued to an operator flying in Sydney Harbour restricted airspace and within 30 metres of people.

Action only occurs when there’s a complaint or sufficient evidence to prove the operator broke the rules. This isn’t easy to prove, and it’s certain there’s far more rule breaches taking place.

But CASA is releasing details and ‘going public’ to drive home the importance of the rules and direct drone enthusiasts to its new drone safety app.

Overseas the UK’s second busiest airfield, Gatwick Airport, was recently closed due to a drone flying nearby. The drone was sighted twice, causing a closure of nine and five minutes, resulting it five flights being diverted. In Australia it’s against the rules to fly within 5.5km of a controlled aerodrome.

While pressure is mounting on CASA to change the rules once again, the authority is standing by its rules. CASA doesn’t appear to be fully cooperating with the senate inquiry either, causing bipartisan frustration.

The current drone regulation was amended after almost 10 years of in-depth analysis from experts.

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