The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says it is being inundated with an unprecedented number of applications to commercially operate drones.
As the technology improves and prices decline, drones have become more accessible in recent years and there are many models on the market.
Drones are also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) but CASA refers to them as remote-piloted aircraft (RPAs) to emphasise the human element controlling and overseeing the aircraft from the ground.
They are becoming increasingly popular in difficult and expensive-to-reach parts of regional and remote Australia.
“They’re being used in agriculture, mining, by police forces, fire brigades, aerial photography, survey work, mapping, all sorts of things … and the applications people are putting them to broadens all the time,” CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said.
“There are about 200 approved operators across Australia for remotely-piloted aircraft.
“At any one time we’ve got probably about 30-odd applications before us, and they’re being progressively approved so it is still a growing and vibrant area of Australian aviation.”
In 2010 the CSIRO began research into whether using drones could make cattle mustering cheaper and more efficient.
Principal research scientist Dr Dave Henry said the project involved equipping a drone with a thermal camera in order to locate livestock in extensive rangelands in Queensland.
“One of the issues that the industry has up there is being able to muster all their animals at key times of the year,” he said.
“So if we can actually locate them before mustering, then they can organise their helicopters and their crews to be in the right place at the right time.”
Dr Henry said the CSIRO was now looking at how the tool could be used more broadly.
Broome resident Shayne Thomson has been using a drone recreationally for the past 12 months.
However, his vision is to use drones for planning and environmental purposes.
“These quads and the views they can get with the cameras they’ve got fitted with them now can be used for monitoring coastal erosion,” he said.
Some of the earliest documented uses of drones were during warfare, when balloons were fitted with cameras for military reconnaissance.
Most recent designs include small quads with helicopter-like blades, and light toy-like planes operated by remote control and sometimes even monitored with cameras fitted to goggles so that from a great distance the operator can see where they are flying.
Depending on the model and use of the drone, there are various height, weight and licensing conditions set out by CASA.
Mr Gibson said those using a drone for commercial purposes in Australia must obtain an operator’s certificate from CASA.
He said although CASA was fighting to keep up with the number of applications to be processed, Australia was leading the charge.
“We’re one of the first countries in the world to actually have a set of rules covering and allowing for commercial remotely-piloted-aircraft operations,” he said.
“Countries like the United States for example still haven’t actually got that, so we’re very lucky that we put those rules into place more than 10 years ago, but keeping up now is the challenge.”
Mr Thomson takes his drone to Gantheaume Beach where there is plenty of room to glide and film the town’s famous sunsets.
He said he used the drone for fun and therefore did not need a license, but he warned recreational users should take a commonsense approach.
“The main thing is to fly within the rules and regulations by CASA because if everybody does that, then people will be able to continue using these for recreational purposes,” he said.