Whether you're a first-time drone user in Australia or looking to upgrade your setup by incorporating FPV video transmitter equipment, maintaining safe operations is the priority at all times. As a responsible drone pilot, respecting the appropriate laws and regulations is essential.
Here in Australia, all drone regulations are set by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), who split drone usage into two sectors: recreational and commercial. For commercial usage, which includes larger drones used for business matters, the governing body uses a Drone Operator and Accreditation license.
Recreational users do not have to register their drones but must still abide by the general rules as stipulated by CASA in the name of safety – especially when hoping to use FPV VTX facilities.
General Laws of Flying Drones in Australia
CASA's regulations under ordinary circumstances cover a wide range of issues, but the main rules affecting drones under 2kg are as listed below:
- Only one drone can be operated at any given time.
- Drones should only be flown in the daytime.
- The drone must not fly any higher than 120m (400ft) above ground level.
- Drones must be flown at least 30m away from the public.
- The drone must not be flown directly above people, even if it's at a height of over 30m.
- Drones must not fly above sports events that are live in action.
- Drone operators must not film or photograph people without their consent.
- The drone must not be flown near emergency operations, including fires or car crashes.
In addition to the national regulations, operators should research and adhere to their individual state laws.
FPV Flying Laws in Australia
As a general rule of thumb, CASA regulations stipulate that the drone should be flown within the pilot's line of sight. However, there are circumstances in which you are permitted to fly in First Person View (FPV) through the use of FPV VTX equipment.
Flying in FPV means using an on-board camera to fly your drone using the perspective gained from the drone. Essentially, you will be operating the device as if you were a pilot inside it. The camera itself may be synced to a digital screen or connected to a pair of digital goggles that provide a true Virtual Reality (VR) experience.
First and foremost, you will be able to use FPV on your drone without any permissions or accreditations if you only intend to use the drone indoors for recreational purposes. So, flying around your living room is fine. If, however, you wish to take the FPV video transmitter outside, you will need CASA approval.
Approval can be achieved in three ways:
- Model aircraft and drone Flight Authorisation applications that cover FPV mode.
- CASA-approved Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) commercial licenses.
- Membership to the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA).
Even with CASA approval, any user intending to fly their drone in FPV mode courtesy of a video transmitter must respect the VTX regulations for their specific model and setup.
Different VTX Systems
When using FPV VTX technology, the connection between the camera and the screen/goggles needs to be consistent and reliable. The signals sent from transmitter to receiver are commonly delivered over one of the following frequencies;
- 900 MHz,
- 1.2 GHz / 1.3 GHz,
- 2.4 GHz,
- 3.3 GHz,
- 5.8 GHz.
While most recreational drone users will use the 5.8 GHz solution, it's important for all pilots using FPV technology to know their setup. Not only for function but also due to CASA regulations.
A lower frequency can work over a longer range and bypasses obstacles like walls or trees. A higher frequency, however, will deliver a better image quality and uses a smaller antenna. This explains why the 5.8 GHz is commonly used. The range of equipment on the market is far higher than, say, a 900 MHz option too.
FPV VTX Regulations
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is in charge of the rules regarding permitted frequencies for drone technologies. Most operators will use the 5.8GHz frequency. As such, the ISM band should not exceed 25 mW and must sit within the frequency range of 5725 MHz – 5875 MHz.
While 5.8 GHz solutions can use up to 2W of power, drone users on a 2.4 GHz VTX setup will operate with a maximum power rating of 1W. A 900 MHz option can operate to a maximum power of 3mW. So, although the operations are legal under the right circumstances, it is unlikely that this option will be suitable given that most video transmitters use at least 500mW.
Users operating a 1.2 GHz / 1.3 GHz device will need to acquire a HAM amateur radio frequency license due to the potential disruptions experienced with other radio frequencies.
The MAAA MOP066 – First Person View (FPV) policies also state the following vital clauses:
- 7.2The observer shall have flown the model prior to FPV operations and be familiar with all its various functions.
- 7.11Before a Video Transmitter is powered up, the pilot must make certain the channel set on the Video Transmitteris not already in use at the flying facility.
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