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Ready, set, take-off - drones are on the move

Ready, set, take-off - drones are on the move

It is estimated that close to a million people all over the world were given a drone for Christmas in 2015.

In addition to the keen hobbyists who had drones at the top of their Christmas lists in 2015, according to Australia's Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA), the number of businesses applying for a drone licence in Australia has risen sharply, growing from about 14 in 2012 to 180 licences early in 2015.

Some of what differentiates a drone from the traditional remote control plane is the amount of interaction needed from the pilot. Drones use smart technologies to minimise the interaction needed from the pilot. They are equipped with tracking and GPS technologies and are able to react to the environment around them – for example they have sensors to judge distances from nearby objects and some can also be programmed to automatically undertake certain actions such as returning to their home location should they lose connection with their pilot.

Drones, also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), have been around a lot longer than you would probably think. The very earliest version of a drone was actually a balloon and was deployed for the first time in the late 1800’s. Over the last hundred or so years, thanks to the leaps and bounds made in technology, drones have become precision flying machines with a multitude of uses. Much of the research and development into drones has been done by militaries around the world with the view to using them as expert killing machines. Now, however, the public is beginning to reap the benefits of the millions of dollars that has been pumped into drone technologies.

Beyond the military and the hobbyists, the Australian government and businesses alike have continued to innovate and generate new ways to benefit from drone technology. Some of these include:

• In 2015, The Civil Aviation Safety Authority granted special permission for a drone development company to run trials across rural NSW and QLD for a high flying feral animal detection drone that would feed real-time images of feral animal locations back to farmers in the area.

• Waverly Council in NSW recently conducted a test flight with a multi rotar drone fitted with a go-pro with a view to using them to assist in the detection of sharks on some of Australia’s most famous beaches, including Bondi. The same technology is being trialled and implemented to prevent shark attacks at beaches right along the Australian coastline.

• The Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade owns and operates a number of drones which they use to carry cameras into the air above an incident to allow them to see real time pictures of the situation. Police and emergency services also continue to develop their use of drone technology.
While there are lots of productive uses for drones that will no doubt change the landscape of many different industries, there are also some security, safety and privacy concerns with the increasing prevalence of drones in Australia. Some alarming instances of drone usage include the following:

• January 2016 – an official warning was issued by CASA to Sapphire coast drone users after reports were received of drones being used on the flight path at Merimbula airport and in the year prior to Feb 2015, there were 14 reports of drones being flown dangerously close to commercial aircraft in Australia.

• In June 2015, singer Enrique Igelsias seriously injured his hand during a concert when he tried to grab a drone that was being used to take aerial images of the crowd.

• A Victorian real estate agent who was legitimately using a drone to take aerial shots of a property published the shots revealing the neighbour sunbathing topless

• Based on evidence from a YouTube video recorded from a drone, a Queensland man was fined $850 by CASA for flying his drone at an unsafe height over populated areas.

• A man was fined $1,700 in WA after the drone he was operating fell on a marathon runner, inflicting cuts to the back of her head.

In the interests of minimising these instances, CASA has implemented some simple regulations that must be followed when operating a drone:

• UAV’s must be operated within line-of-sight and in daylight hours
• You must not fly within 30m of vehicles, boats, buildings or people
• If you are in controlled airspace (most Australian cities) you must not fly higher than 400ft (120m)
• You must not fly within 5.5 km of an airfield
• It is illegal to fly for money or commercial benefit unless you have an unmanned operators certificate issue by CASA

Remember that fines for the misuse of drones can be up to $8,500.

With drones being one of the hottest gift items, CGU has acted quickly to deliver protection for our customers from the hazards associated with recreational drones.

CGU offers cover for personal drone, use under model or toy aircraft within the existing home and contents insurance policies. The home and contents cover offered through IAG will include a range of risks associated with recreational use, which could extend to accidental damage, theft and loss, depending on the level of cover you have.

Our customers can enjoy knowing that they will have increased protection if an accident happens or damage occurs while they are flying a drone.

Don’t forget to double check the Civil Aviation Safety Authorities Regulations and be vigilant about when and where you fly your drone, particularly in residential areas.

Consult your insurance adviser about your specific needs to ensure you get the cover that’s right for you. Visit cgu.com.au to find an adviser.