Should I Buy a Drone for My Kids? - A Comprehensive Guide for Parents
When the kids ask for a drone, here’s all you need to know.
Drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). RPAs. Quadcopters. They can go by a variety of names, but they are all complex flying machines that have lately begun filling the skies.
If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve been asked (or even pestered!) to buy your children a drone. Once solely in the realm of government and the military, in 2018 drones have become a commonplace item. There are countless commercial uses for drones, beneficial in fields such as agriculture, construction, and real estate. But drones have truly exploded for recreational use, and children, teenagers, and young adults have been among the most enthusiastic group to embrace the trend.
As drones have grown in enormous popularity over the past several years, you likely know one if not several people who have a drone of their very own. These days, it seems even kids are flying drones! Should your children be next? And what do you need to know about kids using drones?
Young people tend to love keeping up with the latest technology---especially if it’s fun! Years ago, remote controlled airplanes were an exciting novelty. Drones take that to an entirely new level, with capabilities not just of smooth flight, but with functions such as GPS, photo, and video. The technology continues to advance, too, producing better and smaller drones and making them more affordable to the average consumer. It’s not hard to see all the possibilities that a recreational drone could offer. Many YouTubers, Instagrammers, and Snapchat stars use drones to create dynamic video and photo content, something which young people are absorbing almost constantly. (5 million Australians use Instagram every month, and 80% of Australian children reported being active on at least one social media network.) When your kids (especially teenagers) see this media content, it can generate a strong desire for a drone of their own. But should you purchase one?
It’s understandable to be hesitant or even nervous about drones for kids. Aside from the knowledge needed to fly the drone, there is much to learn regarding the legalities and safety standards for operating a drone in Australia---whatever your age. This guide hopes to address your major concerns and questions regarding drone usage in Australia, especially as it relates to your children.
The Biggest Question: Are Drones Safe for Kids?
The most pervasive concern for parents everywhere is whether or not it is safe for children to operate drones. The answer to that question depends on a number of factors: the age of the child, the circumstances in which they will operate the drone (aka with or without parental supervision), and the type of drone to be used.
It is not recommended for very young children to use drones, as young children are more prone to putting small objects into their mouths. They also may not be able to handle the drone’s mechanisms, which can result in injury.
But children around the ages of 8 and up may be able to use certain types of drones. There are actually many models which are now manufactured as ‘toy drones’. Though not technically toys (all drones should be considered serious equipment) these can be a great choice for the older child who is set on getting a drone. These models are designed to be more suitable for a younger group. Toy drones are often labelled as appropriate for ages 8 and over, but it is up to the parents to decide whether or not their child is ready for a drone.
If you have a child under the age of 12, you may want to look closely at the types of toy drone models which make good drones for kids. These may be much smaller than the typical drone, designed for use in limited spaces or even indoors. With an indoor-only drone, your kid can enjoy the thrill of operating a drone without the obstacles or concerns that the outdoors present. Toy drones, or drones for beginners, are often easier to operate, making them a good drone for first-timers. Such models may not have an attached camera (which can alleviate additional security/legal worries) or may have a limited flying time or flying range. All of these features can make a drone more suitable for children.
Some of the more popular models of drones, such as the DJI Phantoms, should definitely NOT be classified as toys. In fact, the vast majority of recreational drones are sophisticated pieces of equipment that should be used primarily by responsible older kids, if they’re to be used by kids at all. With the right supervision and drone education, your preteen or teen-aged kids, should be able to responsibly use these types of drone models. In the USA, a drone owner must be 13 years of age to register their drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (a legal requirement in that country). With no specific laws regarding this in Australia, the FAA’s rule could be “borrowed” as a good age guideline for your own children’s use of drones.
Have you decided you might want to buy your kids a drone? Let’s explore the next section and learn the drone laws for Australia.
Are Drones legal? - Drone Laws in Australia
Whoever is flying a drone---you or your child---it is vital to understand the drone flying laws in Australia. If travelling abroad, be sure to thoroughly research each country’s drone laws. These vary widely, and in some cases, you may not be allowed to bring a drone with you. To avoid issues on your travels, check the local laws prior to departure.
In Australia, drone regulations are set by CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. There are different drone rules depending on how you intend to operate a drone. Flying a drone for commercial purposes (for any sort of economic gain) requires a drone licence and an operator certification for you or for the business you represent. But assuming your kids will just be flying a drone for a bit of fun and not to turn a profit, you don’t need any sort of licence. All you need to do is follow the essential drone regulations and safety standards.
Recreational Drone Flying
Flying a drone or remote aircraft can be a wonderful pastime that builds eye coordination, confidence, and skills. If you’ve purchased a drone for your kids, you should spend some time together learning and discussing the rules set by CASA. These rules have been designed with the purpose of keeping people and property safe and ensuring drones are operated in a manner that respects privacy. The drone rules are simple enough to follow, and maintain legal, appropriate drone flights. Knowing these rules can help provide you with peace of mind as your kids are flying their drones.
The CASA rules help answer some of the most commonly asked questions about drone usage in Australia. (How high can a drone fly? How high should they be legally flown in Australia? Can a drone be flown at night? Where can a drone be flown?)
Drones should not be flown within 30 metres of other people.
You must only fly one drone at a time.
This is a solid rule which ensures full attention is paid to the operating drone.
Drones should not be flown over or above people, such as in populous public areas (sporting ovals, large gatherings, parks, busy roads, beaches, etc.).
You must not fly a drone in an area where it could impact public safety.
Drones should not be flown in the area of ongoing emergency procedures, such as accident sites or search and rescue operations.
Drones should never be flown near an active brushfire area.
They can ground emergency aircraft and create significant problems for rescue workers.
Drones should not be operated in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person, or property---this includes a range of situations such as inclement weather.
This rule is a general rule which means the pilot must be depended on to make informed and responsible decisions. If your kids will be flying a drone, you should have a conversation with them about identifying and avoiding risks. It’s important for them to understand any potential drone dangers and know how to make the right choice in each situation.
Drones over 100 grams cannot be flown within 5.5km of a controlled aerodrome (an airspace with a control tower). There are exceptions to this: “You may fly within 5.5km of a non-controlled aerodrome or helicopter landing site (HLS) only if manned aircraft are not operating to or from the aerodrome. If you become aware of manned aircraft operating to or from the aerodrome/ HLS, you must manoeuvre away from the aircraft and land as soon as safely possible.
You must not operate your drone in prohibited or restricted areas
*One place where many have tried to fly their drones is over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s no surprise, as this is a beautiful area. However, this is a prohibited zone and massive fines can be assessed to those who attempt to fly here.
Other drone rules are common sense regulations that provide consistent guidelines for pilots. These keep everyone safe.
Drones cannot be flown at night.
When flying a drone, you must keep it within a visual line of sight, meaning you must be able to see, control, and navigate your drone with your eyes at all times (not using goggles, screens, or other devices).
*Your kids may have seen videos of others wearing virtual reality style goggles with drones for a first-person viewing experience. You should note, it is illegal to wear these while piloting a drone, but a friend or family member can wear the goggles.
Drones cannot be flown higher than 120 metres above the ground.
This ensures that pilots can maintain a consistent line of sight, and also keeps the drones safely out of airspace.
Drone Safety 101
In addition to the official regulations set by CASA, there are other things to know about safe, responsible drone flying. For kids, this may be especially important. Drones can be a lot of fun, but ultimately, the pilot has a great responsibility.
Always be sure to understand the rules of where you are flying.
CASA’s regulations cover overall aviation safety, but additional rules (such as those of local councils, government organisations, environmental agencies, or national parks) may apply depending on where you plan to fly your drone. Check with your local council or other appropriate body for full details.
Be aware of, and have respect for, personal privacy.
Respect the individual right to privacy. Don’t photograph or record video of people without their consent—this may violate state laws. This means, too, that you should avoid flying near backyards or homes. Be aware of the boundaries of private property.
Never operate your drone near emergency services aircraft.
These aircraft have an important job to do, and your drone may prevent them from getting that done.
Don’t just buy and fly!
When your kids first get their drone, they will be so excited and will likely want to run out immediately and take it to the skies. But this is not the proper approach. Instead, before flying, take the time to get to know all aspects of operating the drone. Your kids should spend significant time practicing in an open, secure area. Some small UAVs may even be able to operate indoors. After ample practice time, your kids will be ready for short flights.
Check your batteries regularly.
Your drone battery can pose potential hazards (such as igniting fires) if not inspected for signs of wear and tear on a regular basis. It is recommended to examine the battery following each drone flight and replace as often as necessary. Check to see if your drone’s battery shows signs of leakage, discolouration, or damage.
If in doubt, check it out.
If you or your child are unsure about anything to do with drone safety or Australian drone rules, you must seek out the information before flying. You can check the CASA website for the best answer, or download CASA’s Drone App, to help you know where flying is permitted.
Be aware of wildlife.
Drone safety is important not just for humans and property, but for wildlife as well. Be aware of birds and exercise great caution in keeping your drone far from them and their nests.
You should never fly within 300 metres of any marine mammals. This violation can result in a steep fine. Wildlife are just one of the many reasons that there are specific regulations for flying drones in national parks.
Your Safety Comes First, Not Your Drone’s
One of the most important things for kids to keep in mind when flying drones is their own personal safety. This should always be their priority, and adhering to drone operating standards will help to ensure their safety. But should something go wrong with the drone, your child must prioritise their own wellbeing.
If a drone is crashing or has landed in a possibly dangerous situation, the child should notify you or other appropriate parties. A child (nor an adult) should never endanger himself or herself with the purpose of saving or rescuing a drone.
You should also never come into contact with a drone in flight. Don’t try to catch it with your hands (the propellers’ motion can be very dangerous).
Remember, your safety comes first---not your drone’s.
Now that you’ve got the legal and safety knowledge under your belt, it’s time to consider some other practical things regarding drones for children.
How hard is it to learn how to fly a drone?
Surprisingly, it may be far easier for your child to learn to operate the drone than for you! Kids are often natural pilots due to their familiarity with video games, computers, and other devices. Most small drones are powered by batteries and can be operated using a gamepad-type remote controller. Still, flying a drone successfully will demand some practice---and some patience.
What if the neighbours complain about my kid flying his drone?
A common concern for parents is how their neighbours might feel about their kids using a drone in their neighbourhood. It’s a good idea to alert your neighbours of the new flying contraption, particularly if there haven’t previously been drones in the area. Teach your children to be respectful and to avoid flying directly over neighbours’ properties. They should fly only over the street or your own property. Your neighbours will likely not mind the drone so long as it is kept at a safe and respectful distance. In fact, the neighbours may even come over to see the UAV in action!
Whenever possible, take your drone to fly in a more open area, where there will be fewer people and obstacles.
This is a good time to consider setting boundaries for your kids as it relates to their drone use. In addition to adhering to CASA’s drone regulations, you should feel free to set specific rules for your kids such as certain hours they can fly during the day. These rules can help to assure safe, secure flying.
Buying the Right Drone for Your Kids
If you’re now ready to take the next step, you’ll be considering which drone to buy for your kids. Age will play a factor, as noted previously, but you should also think about what purpose the drone will serve.
What will your children get out of the drone?
While older children or teenagers with a keen interest in aviation may become avid drone enthusiasts, for younger kids, drones may be merely a novelty. This is important to consider, as the price of drones ranges significantly, and you will likely wish to make a more modest investment for a younger child. Why pay hundreds for a drone that won’t get much use when you could buy a starter drone much cheaper? This list of the best drones for kids might help you get started.
More expensive drones will come with features such as extended flying times, attached video and photo cameras, and more. But for the intrigued child just wanting to try out the drone life, an inexpensive, basic model will do fine.
Drones require maintenance, too. It may be a better investment for you to purchase a lower cost drone that will be more practical to replace.
Ready to Fly?
Are you ready to let your kids fly a drone? Hopefully, this comprehensive guide to drones for kids has helped you to feel more prepared and confident with the process. With some learning, practice, patience, and a strong focus on safety, your kids will have endless hours of happy fun with these magical flying machines.