Don't be a drongo with your drone these holidays
AVIATION authorities have joined firefighters in issuing a warning to people wanting to fly their drones following near misses in Australia and the US.
Drones, which can be bought for just a few hundred dollars for basic models, and even cheaper online from China, are becoming increasingly popular in Australia and overseas.
Earlier this month, a Victorian man was fined after crashing his drone during a police operation at Altona.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued the $850 fine because the drone was flown within 30 metres of people.
The man was flying a recreational drone and was not associated with the police operation.
Flying a recreational drone does not require an approval from CASA but there are safety rules.
These include keeping drones more than 30 metres from people at all times, not flying over crowds or gatherings of people, not causing a hazard to aircraft and having the drone in line of sight at all times.
In the Altona incident, the drone hit a power line and narrowly missed a police officer when falling to the ground.
CASA's acting Director of Aviation Safety Terry Farquharson says the incident highlights the importance of following the safety rules when flying a drone.
"People who fly drones have a responsibility to know the safety rules and to follow them," Mr Farquharson said.
"The rules are simple but very important as they keep people safe.
"If you break the safety rules and CASA has evidence we will investigate and we will take the appropriate action, which may include penalties.
CASA advises people never to fly recreational drones near places where emergency services are operating.
Recreational drones should be kept away from police operations, accident scenes, building fires, bushfires and rescue operations.
In the United States the Government, alarmed by increasing encounters between small drones and manned aircraft, has also launched a safety campaign.
Retailers said small drones, which are indistinguishable from today's more sophisticated model aircraft, were flying off the shelves at Christmas.
The FAA is concerned amateurs are using the drones in a reckless manner, increasing the likelihood of a collision that could bring down a plane or rain debris down on people.
This year the agency received about 25 reports per month of drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports, up from just a handful of reports two years ago.
As of the end of 2013, about one million small drones had been sold worldwide, according to industry estimates.
Sales this year are expected to significantly outdistance previous tallies.
"Many of these operators have no aviation history, background or knowledge," Margaret Gilligan, FAA's associate administrator for safety, told a recent forum.
"They think they just bought something fun that they just want to fly around," Ms Gilligan said.
"They don't for a moment think, 'I'm entering the national airspace system'."
Some drones on the market are capable of reaching altitudes as high as around 5500m (18,000 feet) - the start of "class A" airspace where most passenger and cargo airlines cruise.