Drone ban: Ballarat City Council changes laws

BUZZED: Drone operators Luke Parker and Philip Rowse are unhappy with new council laws requiring permits to fly drones. Picture: Jeremy Bannister

BUZZED: Drone operators Luke Parker and Philip Rowse are unhappy with new council laws requiring permits to fly drones. Picture: Jeremy Bannister

Shocked drone operators have vowed to fight a ban on flying remotely piloted planes they say has put them out of business overnight.

Ballarat City Council voted 7-2 on Wednesday night in favour new local laws, including a requirement for permits to fly drones on municipal land or roads.

It will affect commercial operators as well as private flyers, including children gifted drones for Christmas.

Some operators said they would ignore the law then challenge any fine in court.

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Commercial drone pilot Luke Parker has been leading the push against the change.

Mr Parker said council had shut down his and other drone businesses with their regulations.

“You can’t restrict the media on the ground taking photos, but they are trying to restrict whatever they can,” he said.

“It seems like they can pass this law and pretty much shut down the whole industry.”

There are about 12 commercial drone operators in Ballarat. Mr Parker has been previously contracted by The Courier and council.

Industry experts also hit out at claims new laws were needed to regulate drones, because CASA laws already placed heavy restrictions on their use.

Drone operator Philip Rowse said it was a shock to hear about the council decision.

Mr Rowse helped the Civil Aviation Safety Authority introduce its drone regulations. The Ballarat man also manufactures auto-pilot systems, which are used in drones across the world.

Mr Rowse said he wanted to know council’s motivation for the new laws.

“It reeks of someone thinking it was a good idea to stay ahead of this issue, but there has been a lot of fear mongering,” he said.

“I am shocked this law even exists.”

Mr Rowse said although council could ban people launching drones from public land, it did not have the jurisdiction to police airspace.

CASA regulations ban drones from flying within 30 metres of people.

This law also makes it illegal for many drone pilots to take-off or land in their own backyard, unless they live on large, rural properties.

Council’s new law has created an even larger buffer zone of 100 metres, well above the CASA’s regulation.

Cr Ben Taylor said the new laws would be reviewed and the industry’s thoughts taken into account.

“There is an opportunity so we can review that with them and come up with fair and reasonable approach,” he said. “We have to get a balance and we have to get it right – I agree we haven’t done that. We have to sit down and work it out.”

Mr Rowse said CASA rules did enough to keep drones in check.

“A lot of the perceived risks were used in the justification of this,” he said.

“But there have been zero deaths in Australia due to drones, there has been no collision with a plane.”

NOT HAPPY: Luke Parker with his drone, which he can no longer fly without a council permit. Mr Parker already has the highest level accreditation for flying drones with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

NOT HAPPY: Luke Parker with his drone, which he can no longer fly without a council permit. Mr Parker already has the highest level accreditation for flying drones with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Enthusiasts left without options

Amateur drone enthusiasts have been left out in the cold by a Ballarat City Council decision to require permits to fly on municipal land.

It was not clear on Thursday exactly how council could seek to police airspace, usually the jurisdiction of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

However even amateur drone pilots who have basic accreditation for flying from CASA will have to request council permission every time they take off.

It leaves the amateur pilots with very few options to pursue their hobby.

State government legislation bans the use of drones in state parks because of the fire risk created in the event a drone malfunctions and crashes.

It is also illegal for most hobbyists to fly the drones in their own backyard if they are within 30 metres of another home.

This left public parks and gardens as the only spaces left available to them, however now that option has also been removed.

Ballarat City mayor Samantha McIntosh said council was acting on community concerns regarding drone safety.

“We certainly have had reports of people being bothered (by drones),” she said.

“We do need to protect our reserves and people’s ability to relax and enjoy and feel safe in those areas.

“There is plenty of opportunity for us to look at further details and contemplate other options going forward.”

Cr McIntosh did not answer questions about whether there should be allocated zones in parks for people to fly their drones, without having to request a permit from council.

Philip Rowse with his drone. Mr Rowse sells auto-pilot systems in Australia and overseas.

Philip Rowse with his drone. Mr Rowse sells auto-pilot systems in Australia and overseas.

She said council was not concerned about the impact on drone operators, but instead focused on the need to ensure the community felt safe.

“We know there is an uptake in the use of drones and we need to make sure we are providing appropriate protection,” she said.

“We put local law out for people to consider it and it has been out there and come back to the council chamber for a vote.”

Cr Mark Harris said on Thursday council was attempting to control something that has the “potential to be uncontrolled and dangerous”.

“We need to have the mechanism to say to an operator operating the drone to the detriment of others, that is enough,” he said.

However this was contested by drone operators Luke Parker and Philip Rowse.​

The Australian Association for Unmanned Systems, the peak advocacy group drones, also plans to contact council to discuss the rules.

Ballarat City was the second municipality to introduce anti-drone laws, following a decision by Casey City Council to introduce similar laws earlier this week.