Struggle to police skies: invasive drones prompt privacy concerns
An increasing presence of drones flying around the Southbank area has left residents feeling on edge, as sightings outside high-rise apartments raise concerns of privacy and safety.
In recent months residents have reported drones hovering near apartment windows, with the issue gaining traction on social media where many people have shared unsettling encounters with the aerial intruders, prompting questions about illegal drone activities.
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said he was aware of the issue, saying there’s “definitely a potential privacy concern” but added, “the question is how do you police that?”
“How do you know who it is? You just see a drone. The big question is: what time of day are they flying? If it’s night-time, it’s very questionable. If it’s during the day, it could be anyone.”
It’s a tough one but you’re relying on people doing the right thing.
A Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) spokesperson said in accordance with the drone safety rules, recreational drones must not be flown at night or in a populous area.
“Populous areas include major events, a crowded beach, busy road or wherever people may be gathered or residing,” the spokesperson said.
“Operators must also fly their drone at least 30 metres from other people. Keeping at least 30 metres from other people provides a buffer zone in case they lose control of their drone or there is a system failure.”
The spokesperson anyone who believed someone may be breaking these rules can make a report at casa.gov.au/about-us/contact-us
“Anyone who fears for their safety or needs an immediate response to a drone-related incident should report it to their local police.”
Commercial drone operators, on the other hand, must have a licence to operate – such as real estate aerial photography – and obtain permission from their local council or landowner before operating a drone.
According to the City of Melbourne’s guidelines for the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) within the municipality, it stated, “operators must follow the CASA rules for flying drones at all times” and “any breaches of CASA rules for flying from or over a council park are enforceable by CASA”.
“CASA cannot enforce privacy related matters. Safety breaches can only be investigated where there is sufficient evidence, such as photos or video recordings of the breach and the person controlling the drone at the time.”
Community group Southbank 3006 vice-president Jannine Pattison, who had recently spoken on radio and TV about drones buzzing around high-rises, said “residents are concerned for their privacy, and rightly so”.
“People have a right to feel safe in their own homes without feeling they must draw the curtains at sundown – when most of the reports of drones come in,” she said.
“This is an increasing problem as more and more people invest in drones for recreational use. While drones have become the new age Peeping Tom, they can be just as invasive as binoculars and telescopes seen on many balconies and used for stargazing … who knows?”
Peter Jose, who recently started Drone Pilot Pete, a licenced and certified drone company, said he was passionate about conducting all drone jobs according to aviation regulatory and safety protocols in an industry he conceded was “heavily regulated but hard to control”.
His services included flying drones for weddings, construction sites, events, and real estate luxury home builders across south-east Melbourne, and while this did not yet include operations in the CBD and Southbank, he said residents should be made aware of any drone activity that may occur in their area.
“People in the high-rises should be all aware of what’s going on. When I do an inspection of a high-rise, the management have put posters up and let everyone know what’s going on so it’s above board,” he said.
“Also having spent the past two years as a safety manager for a global aviation company, all drone pilots should be conducting a job safety analysis on any site – this is a systematic procedure that identifies safety elements of each job/task step and coaches the employee on how to avoid potential safety hazards, this may include take-off and landing areas that are organised in a clear area.”
“This is only part of what needs to be done to comply with rules and regulations. It’s a big deal for them to do this, and if it’s not done then yes, people are going to say, ‘why is there a drone outside my window or flying around?’”
Mr Jose acknowledged there were people operating drones without a licence and didn’t understand the regulations “so it’s very hard to pinpoint where they’re coming from.”
“People come to @Dronepilotpete because we’re a fully registered business with all approvals from CASA, the aviation regulator, and we have over 25 years’ experience as an airline pilot/safety manager and photographer.” •