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Can I fly my drone indoors?

Can I Fly My Drone Indoors at School

The short answer is yes, if you are flying for fun or an educational purpose, and not flying in a hazardous manner. 

To read the details around the law on this see below! We have done the hours of reading of the regulations, and speaking and emailing CASA to understand the complexities of this. So put your thinking caps on as we dive into policy and legislation…

Note: This article applies to Australian Regulations.

There is much confusion around at the moment with using drones in schools. Particularly around using micro-drones such as the DJI Tello indoors.

So, we have decided to clear up some of the confusion and do the reading of the CASA Regulations to make it easier for you. We have also been in discussion with the Policy and Regulation Manager at CASA.

When you are flying drones, if you are not doing it for ‘sport and recreation’ then you are doing it for ‘hire or reward’. This is important to understand, because if you are flying for ‘sport and recreation’ then you are flying a model aircraft. If flying for ‘hire and reward’ then you are flying a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). More on that in a second… 

From 1 March 2022 educators are specifically called out in the most recent amendments to the Legislation (see the relevant paragraph below), where they are termed to be flying ‘model aircraft’ when flying drones up to 7kg.

Interesting side note, whilst the above paragraph and definition of a model aircraft doesn’t come into effect until March 2022, when model aircraft registration comes into effect (See para 202.466). This doesn’t seem to matter for educators, as CASA has made a sweeping statement on their website here, that when flying for educational purposes at recognised educational institutions, including schools or universities, it is generally considered ‘flying for fun’ (i.e. for sport and recreation = model aircraft).

 

The distinction when flying drones and being covered under a ‘sport and recreation’ rather than a ‘commercial’ operation is important as it impacts on how flying indoors is viewed.

Some Definitions

So first off, let’s confirm some definitions.

We all know what a drone is, but in CASA’s eyes, a drone is classified in two different ways. It is either a model aircraft or a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

Model AircraftAn aircraft that is used for sport and recreation and cannot carry a passenger.

Sport and RecreationIn relation to the flight of an unmanned aircraft, a flight activity only for the pleasure, leisure or enjoyment of the remote pilot.

RPA A remotely piloted aircraft, other than a balloon or kite. There are also different types of RPA categories, by weight.

So, when we are discussing the use of drones in schools, as CASA has determined that schools are flying under sport and recreation, then we will call drones, model aircraft. This is important to understand as it affects which parts of the regulation we need to look at.

NOTE: I say likely above as it does depend on where you sit on that line of sport and recreation vs are you doing this for reward or hire. If you are unsure, then check with CASA.

If you fly drones for hire or reward (commercial), then you are flying an RPA and a different part of the regulation defines your operation.

Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, 1998, Volume 3, Part 101

This is the CASA Regulations (the law) that applies to all aircraft use, and Part 101 is the area of the regulation that applies to model aircraft and RPA use in Australia. This latest compilation was registered on the 12th of October 2020.

We are going to look at the subparts that apply to both model aircraft and RPA, which are Subparts 101.A to 101.G.

Subpart 101.A – Preliminary

This applies to both RPA and model aircraft. Remember that if teachers are flying drones in schools with their students, then they are flying model aircraft.

Let’s look at the most important part of 101.A, in relation to flying model aircraft indoors.

Key Information to Understand

If you are flying a model aircraft indoors, then subparts 101.C to 101.I do not apply. This is important because Subpart 101.F contains the Standard Operating Conditions for RPA and Subpart 101.G contains the Standard Operating Conditions for model aircraft.

In both these subparts is where the 30m rule that many people are concerned with comes from. As this subpart does NOT apply to model aircraft indoors, then these Standard Operating Conditions do not apply. But what about the other subparts that do apply?

Subpart 101.B – General prohibition on unsafe operation

This subpart IS applicable to flying model aircraft indoors. So here is the important part…

Key Information to Understand

This subpart still applies to model aircraft being flown indoors. So, we must ensure that we are not flying in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property. But this is open to interpretation by the person in charge and appropriate risk mitigation factors need to be put in place.

What are Subparts 101.C. D, E and F (even though they don’t apply to Model Aircraft)

Subpart 101.C discusses things that you must consider if flying near prohibited or restricted areas, controlled airspace, aerodromes, visual line of sight, operating heights etc. But at the start of this subpart, it states that this subpart does not apply to those mentioned at 101.005(3), being model aircraft flown indoors. 

Subparts 101.D and E refer to balloons and kites.

Subpart 101.F is related to RPA. RPA by definition are when being used for hire or reward, i.e. commercial purposes. But as we are looking at model aircraft/drones in school, they are being flown for sport and recreation, then by definition, they are not RPA, but rather model aircraft.

Subpart 101.G – Model Aircraft

Key Information to Understand

This subpart discusses operating conditions for model aircraft that weigh more than 250 grams. As a microdrone, by definition is under 250 grams, then this Subpart does not apply. It also says that this Subpart does not apply to model aircraft being flown indoors. 

If you were flying a model aircraft that was more than 250 grams, so something like a Spark or Mavic 2 Pro, then…

  • This subpart would not apply if you were flying indoors (but we don’t recommend flying a Mavic indoors!!).
  • This subpart would apply if you were flying outdoors

So, break this down for me, Can I fly drones indoors at school?

Follow this…

Are you a teacher wanting to use micro-drones (like the DJI Tello) indoors with your students and are flying with a ‘sport and recreation’ use as opposed to a ‘hire or reward use’?

  • Yes – Make sure you are complying with subpart 101.B – ensuring that you are not flying in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, another person, or property.

What does this mean? We recommend clear flight lanes, safety areas to fly behind (like lines on the ground – doesn’t need to be drone cages), safety glasses and safety briefings at the start of the activity.

But what if we are within 5.5km of an airport or aerodrome?

  • You may still fly indoors, subpart 101.C and 101.G which discuss restrictions on flying close to aerodromes do not apply model aircraft being flown indoors.

Is there anything else? 

  • No, have fun, be safe, but remember to explain to your students how these regulations change if flying drones outdoors.

Are you a teacher wanting to use drones outdoors?

  • Yes – Then other regulations apply under Part 101, as you are no longer flying indoors. Schools flying drones outdoors will need to comply with the Subpart 101.G Standard Operating Conditions for model aircraft, in addition to Subparts 101.A, B and C. The Standard Operating Conditions for model aircraft (most notably the 30m rule) are contained in Subpart 101.G and applies when flying model aircraft outdoors.
I’ve been told to look at CASA Direction 55/20, what does this mean?
 
  • This is an additional document (called an Instrument) issued by CASA that provides further clarifying information (Yes, they don’t make it easy to find all the information you need). You can read that here. But, at para 4, it states that this Instrument doesn’t apply to those aircraft mentioned in subregulation 101.005 (3) of the Regulation, i.e. model aircraft flown indoors. 

Still confused?

If in doubt, check with CASA by phoning them on 131 757.

Schools should always ensure that they are also complying with any Education Department requirements for the use of model aircraft in schools.

Please note that this information is correct as at  14 November 2020 and has been worked through with CASA. This is information based on our assessment and may not be applicable to your situation and does not constitute legal advice. Also, these rules and regulations will likely change  as new Legislation and Instruments are issued. We recommend that you always ask questions if you are unsure.

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