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New Drone Laws Could Risk Lives, Experts Warn

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Commercial planes and helicopters will risk catastrophic crashes with drones under new rules, experts warn.

New laws going into effect on Thursday are billed as cutting red tape for commercial drone operators.

But Joseph Wheeler, aviation special counsel at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, warned they would allow anyone of any level of experience to take to the skies 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 told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

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

"The message the rules send is one of leniency, deregulation and freedom of the skies," he said.

Australian Federation of Air Pilots president David Booth told about being warned of a drone 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 told reporters.

A drone crashing into a helicopter's tail rotor could be catastrophic while one trapped in a jet engine could produce engine failure or fire from its lithium battery, he said.

The new rules allow anyone to fly commercial drones weighing less than two kilograms without a certificate and licence from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and without having to pay around $1400 in fees.

The head of a drone operators group said the small aircraft had been flown commercially in Australia for more than a decade with no serious incidents.

The red tape was a safety measure and the more that was taken away, the more airlines and the public were exposed to risk, Australian Certified UAV Operators president Joe Urli said.

"Now with commercial manufacturers flooding the market with cheap drones and anyone being able to operate on a commercial level, the dangers and the hazards are unknown and unquantifiable," he said.


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