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New drone rules 'lift collision risk'

AAP logoAAP 28/09/2016 Max Blenkin

New rules for commercial drone operations raise the risk of catastrophic mid-air crashes with commercial aircraft and helicopters as more inexperienced and irresponsible operators take to the skies.

The new law goes into effect on Thursday and is billed as cutting red tape for commercial operators who will be able to operate unmanned aircraft weighing less than two kilograms with reduced regulatory requirements.

Australian Federation of Air Pilots president David Booth said a two-kilogram drone colliding with an airliner travelling at up to 400 km/h or a helicopter tail rotor could cause catastrophic damage.

"We say that the potential for drone strike is real," he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Booth said he had been warned of a drone nearby while flying a Boeing 737 north of Sydney. Sydney airport operations had been restricted twice in the past month when drones were spotted near approach paths.

"It is not a nice feeling knowing that this drone is in your airspace. You don't know where it's being controlled from, you don't know where it's going," he said,

Joseph Wheeler, aviation special counsel at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, said new rules conveyed a message of leniency deregulation and freedom of the skies.

a drone © Provided by AAP a drone

They would allow anyone of any level of experience to begin commercial operations with readily available inexpensive drone aircraft.

"There will be a significant increase in the risk of a crash between a drone and a passenger airliner and helicopter," he said.

He's considering a court challenge to the laws if they're not disallowed in parliament.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority says the new rules strike the right balance between safety and deregulation of the growing commercial drone business.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said safety would always come first and new rules would allow more people to enter the growing commercial drone business at lower cost and with less red tape.

"There is a system in place to manage the safety for these very small drones. It is certainly not a drone free-for-all. People have got to go through a process to do these commercial operations and we'll keep a very close watch on it," he told reporters.

Mr Gibson said CASA would monitor reports and revisit the rules if necessary.

There are now more than 700 approved commercial drone operators. Even before the new rules start, CASA has received notification from 340 small drone operators.

Rules for actual operation of drones, whether commercial or hobby, remain unchanged. Drones can't fly within 30 metres of other people, within 5.5 kilometres of major airports or higher than 400 feet.

There are substantial penalties for breaking the rules, including up to two years jail for endangering an aircraft.

Among the beneficiaries of the new rules will be primary producers who will be able to operate drones up to 25 kilograms without certification or the $1400 fees.

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