Whether you fly an RPA (drone) as a hobby or for commercial purposes, you must abide by the regulations set down by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). These regulations are there so as you can fly with safety. One of those regulations is that you must not fly over any populous area.
WHAT IS A POPULOUS AREA?
CASA defines a populous area as:-
“An area is a populous area in relation to the operation of an unmanned aircraft or rocket if the area has a sufficient density of population for some aspect of the operation, or some event that might happen during the operation (in particular, a fault in, or failure of, the aircraft or rocket) to pose an unreasonable risk to the life, safety or property of somebody who is in the area but is not connected with the operation”.
This in short means if there is a chance of someone being injured or property being damaged in the event of an aircraft failure, then it is deemed a populous area. If the persons or property within the populous area are part of the flight crew or event and are aware of the aircraft you are able to fly.
This really does prohibit the use of an RPA (Drone) to anywhere where there are people or property without the peoples knowledge of the operation and their consent.
We recently witnessed a drone operator flying a Phantom 3 around a charity event here on the Gold Coast. There were people of all age groups in the area as he made continual passes over the spectators. We tried to explain to him that he was in breach of CASA’s regulations but he chose to ignore us. His reasoning behind his blatant disregard for CASA’s regulations was “ I am a licensed helicopter pilot, I’m allowed do this, it’ll be right mate”.
Unfortunately, had something gone wrong ignorance of CASA’s regulations would not be accepted as an excuse.
30 METRE RULE
The populous area rule also operates in conjunction with the 30 metre rule;
“You must not fly closer than 30m to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.”
This 30 metre border is at ground level and horizontal. You can not fly 30 metres above a person and claim to be outside the 30 metre rule. As your RPA gains altitude you must keep in mind that the “safe” 30 metre area should in theory increase in size. I have had many people tell me that they are higher than 30 metres and can fly where they want. This is not true.
If you have ever seen an RPA have a failure of some sort which involves loss of control and a rapid decent, you will realise that they generally have extremely high momentum. This could ultimately carry the craft in any direction as they fall. The “safe” area increases as they gain altitude for this exact reason.
The danger these RPA’s present is not just that they are falling from height. It is the fact that they will more than likely be under full power as the flight controller tries to regain control for you. This equates to small props of four or five inch diameter spinning at in excess of 30,000 rpm (revolutions per minute). Ten inch diameter props could be spinning at more than 15,000 rpm and they could be plastic or carbon mix. But in a situation as dangerous as this, it won’t matter. They will still open you up like a butchers knife, over and over again until they stop spinning.
This is why we do not fly anywhere near people or property.
This is why we do not fly over a populous area.
Drones are increasing in popularity and are becoming less expensive to acquire. There are more and more people doing the wrong thing. Whether this is not caring, or just ignorance these actions are extremely dangerous.
FLYING WITH SAFETY
We highly recommend that wherever you are flying that you identify a secondary landing area. An area where you can safely land your RPA if your primary landing zone has become “populous” during your flight. We also recommend that you have someone that can act as a ‘spotter’. Someone who can alert you to people or vehicles coming into your zone. Dogs also love RPA’s. They can appear rapidly at the sound of your aircraft as most think it’s a game/toy to chase.
This is why we also recommend that if you are hiring an RPA Operator for commercial purposes that you always use someone who is licenced by CASA as they will have all these contingencies covered. A comprehensive Risk Management Assessment should always be carried out by professional operators prior to the commencement of any flight.