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Why new relaxed drone laws could increase the dangers to aircraft

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New relaxed drone laws which are now in effect have the potential to pose an even greater danger to aircraft according to a commercial airline pilot who experienced a near-miss with an unmanned craft during a flight.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) will now allow users to fly drones weighing less than 2kg for commercial purposes without a license.

Most of the popular drones on the market today, including the DJI Phantom 4, weigh less than 2kg and can produce cinema quality footage and high-res still images.

These new laws are expected to attract even more people to take up drone flying with a view to making money.

Before today it would have cost all drone pilots up to $9000 to receive CASA commercial certification.

Yet what has not changed are the rules which include drones of any kind being forbidden within 5.5km of an airport, flown below 120m, within visual line of sight and at least 30m away from populated areas.

But the fear is that this deregulation could result in even more drone pilots flouting the law.

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The DJI Mavic Pro

Qantas pilot Anthony McFadyen says drones pose a significant danger to aircraft.

“One of the biggest dangers to commercial aircraft around airports is birds. Most medium size birds weigh between 500g and 1 kilogram and they can do significant damage to aircraft,” he told Tech Guide.

“So a drone weighing up to 2 kg could potentially have the same or worse effect in the event of a collision.”

McFadyen knows first-hand about the dangers of drones flying near airports and at illegal heights after an mid-air incident above Singapore last month.

“On approach in Singapore I had a near miss with a large drone. I was flying the aircraft so my attention was focused inside on the aircraft instruments and the captain noticed the drone,” he said.

“We were at about 2500 feet (approximately 800m) when we saw an object out of the window that was getting larger.

“And because it wasn’t moving across the window we realised we were potentially on a collision course.

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The GoPro Karma

“When you’re on final approach you don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre away from conflicts and the drone passed very close below our right wing.

“Luckily we missed the drone but it could have resulted in catastrophe.”

Other CASA rule changes also allow drone pilots to fly drones up to 25kg over their own property which will benefit farmers and other significant land owners.

Interest in drones is set to increase dramatically not only because of the removal of barriers to fly drones commercially but also because of the recent announcements of the GoPro Karma and the DJI Mavic Pro.