Can I fly my drone indoors?
Can I Fly My Drone Indoors at School
There is much confusion around at the moment with using drones in schools. Particularly around using micro-drones such as the Parrot Mambo or 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 had this information confirmed with an RPAS Inspector 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 where the grey area comes in for schools.
Say you are a teacher organising an activity at lunchtime for students to come into the gym to fly the drones, then this would clearly be seen as 'sport and recreation'. Using drones in the classroom as an educational tool is also likely seen as 'sport and recreation', but there is no clear definition on where 'education' sits within the regulation.
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.
After our conversations with CASA about all of this, they are now asking for clarification to be put into the new regulations being released on 1 July 2019 around where 'education' sits. UPDATE: The implementation of the new CASA Regulations have been delayed until at least 2020.
But what about now
So where do things sit now? Well, below is what the regulations say, and we have confirmed this with CASA as of 1 April 2019 (no, this is not an April Fools joke!)
So first off, lets 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 Aircraft – An aircraft that is used for sport and recreation and cannot carry a passenger.
Sport and Recreation – In 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 likely 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.
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.
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 likely to be 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 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 sub part discusses operating conditions for model aircraft that weigh more than 100 grams. As a micro drone, by definition is under 100 grams, then this Subpart does not apply.
If you were flying a model aircraft that was more than 100 grams, so something like a Spark or Mavic, then…
- This subpart would not apply if you were flying indoors.
- This subpart would apply if you were flying outdoors.
So, break this down for me, Can I fly drones indoors at school?
Are you a teacher wanting to use micro-drones (like the Parrot Mambo or 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.
Schools should check with CASA to help define what they are doing is covered as 'sport and recreation' rather than 'hire or reward' by phoning them on 131 757 or via their online query form.
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 1 April 2019 and has been confirmed as correct by a CASA RPAS Inspector. This is information based on our assessment and may not be applicable to your situation. Also, these rules and regulations will likely change on 1 July 2019. UPDATE: The implementation of the new CASA Regulations have been delayed until at least 2020. We recommend that you always ask questions if you are unsure.