19 June 2019

Department to review drone noise regulations after accepting Wing approval flawed

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation

Wing CEO James Burgess at a drone demonstration earlier in the year. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Federal authorities will review its aircraft noise regulations in relation to drones in the face of the recent Legislative Assembly committee inquiry and pressure from the public, including claims they have been flying illegally in the ACT.

Google subsidiary Wing has been operating from its Mitchell base in what it described as a world first since April, after concluding a trial in Bonython that sparked speeches in Parliament, protests, petitions and the inquiry, with complaints focused on noise and invasion of privacy.

The Bonython Against Drones Action Group campaigned against Wing’s operations in the south and passed the mantle to the NoDroneZone group formed to combat the company’s move to Canberra’s north.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority had granted approval for Wing’s new northside delivery service to Gungahlin suburbs, followed by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, which says it assessed the operation under the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018. Wing was able to fly, with conditions, until 31 May, now extended to 31 July.

CASA also approved the Bonython trial but has always maintained correctly that noise was not part of its responsibilities. That fell to the department, which had argued that drones were exempt from noise regulations because they were not aircraft.

But former Australian aviation regulator Ian McIntyre challenged this notion, arguing that drones were in fact defined as aircraft in Australia and that Wing had been flying illegally.

Now the department has accepted that it was wrong and announced on its website a review to determine the appropriate scope and breadth of future noise regulation for drones.

But it did not believe that it was in the public interest to prosecute Wing or other operators that may have breached the rules, due to the lack of clarity around the regulations.

Quadrocopters silhouette against the background of the sunset. Flying drones in the evening sky.

Former Australian aviation regulator Ian McIntyre maintains the operation is illegal. File photo.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that the operation was illegal,” Mr McIntyre said.

The review will look at the noise impact of drones on the community, the size, frequency and nature of drone operations (recreational and commercial), and existing safety regulations.

It will examine State and Territory regulations that commonly cover noise from equipment operating in urban environments, as well as developments overseas and industry innovation to reduce noise impacts through better drone design and varying flight paths.

The department will focus on those companies that propose to operate in residential areas, such as Wing.

Mr McIntyre said the decision was a vindication of his stance but the ball was now in the court of the Gungahlin community and the department.

“If the residents in that area are very much put out and complain in numbers such as what happened in Bonython, the whole thing would be viewed as a ‘public nuisance’, and there’s a particular passage in the regulations that directly say that if the aircraft noise is a public nuisance then the Secretary of the department has to revoke the approval that was given for operation,” he said.

“The Secretary issued an approval for this continuing operation on the north side of Canberra some time ago when they restarted so that approval is valid but if there is enough complaining about the noise and it hasn’t satisfactorily been resolved then the regulations state the Secretary will have to revoke the approval, and that will then stop Wing operating over Canberra completely.”

Wing has modified the propeller systems on its drones to reduce the high-pitched whine that so irritated Bonython residents.

Mr McIntyre said if this was the case and Wing modified transit paths and a few other things it could be ultimately acceptable to the bulk of people in the north.

He was confident that the department would now establish a proper regulatory framework for drones and ensure that all was above board in terms of noise control.

The department approved Wing’s community demonstration flights between 11 April and 13 April 2019, and its Early Flyer Program, which serves 100 homes in Crace, Palmerston and Franklin from 24 April 2019 to 31 May 2019, now extended to 31 July 2019.

Wing is limited to 90 flights a day and can only fly on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, Saturday from 8 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday from 9 am to 4:30 pm, and none on public holidays.

The department says it will be assessing whether a longer-term approval may be granted to Wing based on feedback from other Government agencies, the results of noise testing, industry, aircraft operator and community feedback.

The model of drone being used in Wing’s operations has been tested at 55 decibels at 25 metres.

Wing must also collate all community feedback during the operational period and provide this to the department.

The company said in a statement that it secures all of the necessary permissions required to operate before flying. “We have been and will continue to work with the Australian Government on its review of drone regulations to ensure our continued compliance,” Wing said.


Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I live in Palmerston and haven’t seen any drones operating. (I’ve heard noise a number of times, but couldn’t confirm what it was.) We drove past what we thought was Wing’s location in Mitchell but could only see a construction site. Are the drones actually flying in Gungahlin? Has anyone seen one or received a delivery from one? What’s going on?

There were a few drone deliveries in our street in Palmerston when the early flyer program started. People made a few orders for video and photo opportunities and then lost interest. The kids and I didn’t think it was particularly noisy or disturbing…

Just spotted a drone delivering something to a house in Palmerston. It was at least 300 metres away but despite that was very loud and made an intrusive, irritating whine. What would that be like repeated multiple times daily to residences all around you? And what is the impact on birds of our suburb? Wing: it’s a disgrace that you have imposed this upon us for your own gain.

I didn’t really have an issue with the Drones and I wondered what the fuss was about, until I was out visiting friends at Bonython and I heard how annoying the pitch of the drone was. The level of decibels is one measure, the fingers down a blackboard pitch of the whine is probably the much bigger issue.

I can only imagine how annoying it would be if you are on a delivery path and you get Drones every 5 minutes going over your backyard surroundings.

NoDrone.Zone3:44 am 20 Jun 19

The key message from this article is that now is the time for those opposed to the impact of Drone noise in residential areas to act and make their opposition known.

BE VOCAL, BE HEARD ensure you lodge your opposition via the feedback links available here:

Seems to me the Department is due for a call-in, it’s Secretary hauled over the coals and disciplinary action applied.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.