It’s Illegal to Fly a Drone in a Commonwealth Park

Living as I do on the doorstep of Jervis Bay, I spend a lot of time down there flying my drone. Some of the nicest parts of that bay are, however, (almost) entirely off limits to drone fliers. There are several reasons for this and I thought I’d lay out the regulations here as I keep seeing drone footage shot in Booderee.

The Commonwealth Park Problem

Firstly Booderee is a Commonwealth Park established under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under the act’s regulations are the following sections which pertain to remote control drones:

  1. A remote control drone is defined as an “aircraft” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 2000.
  2. Under the EPBC Regulations it is an offence to taxi, land or take off an aircraft in a Commonwealth Reserve except in a landing area designated in a determination made the Director of National Parks.
  3. Under the EPBC Regulations it is also an offence to cause a remote controlled device to fly or land in a Commonwealth Reserve

All of which means you cannot fly a drone in Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu or Booderee.

The Military Airfield

All airfields and helipads have a 5.5km exclusion zone around them. It is possible to fly within that zone, but only if you have cleared it with the controller of that airspace and have permission to do so. Take a look at the map below:

See the airfield? Yea, that’s military. I’ve drawn a measurement line out from the eastern approach to the 5.5km distance. Imagine a circle with a 5.5km radius with its origin at the airfield and you can easily see that the vast majority of Booderee falls well within the 5.5km exclusion zone.

The Restricted Airspace

The other issue is that, thanks to the airfield in Booderee and the one at HMAS Albatross at Nowra Hill, the park is right at the centre of a large block of restricted airspace. Take a look at the map below:

See the purple area? Yea, that’s restricted airspace. It has its centre at Albatross, but extends north up to Kiama and south as far as Milton. It also includes, as you can see, all of Jervis Bay, Sussex Inlet and Lake Conjola. You cannot fly a drone within this airspace between 8:30am and 11:00pm from Monday to Thursday and from 8:30am to 12:00pm  (lunchtime) on Fridays. In other words you can fly until a little bit after sunrise any day of the week, after lunch on Fridays and all weekend.

That Sucks

Yep, it really does suck. However it sucks more when us locals observe the laws governing drone use, while visitors to the area do not, whether deliberately or because they are ignorant of them. I’ve lived here for 12 years and I finally got to fly my drone in Booderee for one single day recently. Thanks to the Adventure Race Series that took place in the park, special permissions were granted and the airspace was cleared so that the race organisers could film proceedings with their drones. So for one day there was a drone amnesty and I finally got to fly at Greenpatch, Hole in the Wall and Murrays. Given the way society looks at drones, which is to say that they don’t have a very good reputation, it is unlikely that any of the above regulations will be relaxed any time soon. Ignorance of the law is, as any lawyer will tell you, no defence.

17 Replies to “It’s Illegal to Fly a Drone in a Commonwealth Park”

  1. G’day Andy! Thanks so much for the info and the blog. It’s actually the only piece of useful information on the where, when and why on drone flying in Jervis Bay. Now I know the rules I’ll comply with them. Again, this is the highest ranking result using google about Drone flight restrictions Jervis Bay. Thanks for sharing.

    1. No worries Kel. Happy flying 🙂

  2. Great info Andy! Where did you find these specific rules below, can you provide a link?

    “You cannot fly a drone within this airspace between 8:30am and 11:00pm from Monday to Thursday and from 8:30am to 12:00pm (lunchtime) on Fridays. In other words you can fly until a little bit after sunrise any day of the week, after lunch on Fridays and all weekend”.

    Thanks

    1. No worries. I spoke to the tower at Albatross via the Military Switchboard. 🙂

  3. Great article Andy… on a weekend is still better than not at all…. 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for that extra info on times Andy!

    The Casa app doesnt state this (I wish they would). I saw the restricted areas in the shoalhaven recently and almost pooped my pants as I live near Bomaderry and fly near the river and paddocks a bit. I dont fly over suburbia or peoples houses, but was not looking forward to having to drive to Kiama, Bundanoon, Nerriga or Ulladulla to fly my small drone. I know the other national park regulations are different entirely and you have to seek separate permissions to fly there.

    It is sad the rep UAVs currently have, in particular the assumptions the general public have with privacy. I try to explain time and time again to people who have concerns, that any small to medium sized drone (the only drones that would actually be inconspicuous) do not have the capability to actually zoom in on people or property. A fixed wide angle lens is used on these drones to try to get the whole scene in, so you would technically have to get right up in someones face to be able to see what they’re doing etc. Hence not having the ability to successfully spy from the air.

    Also, there are a lot of gray areas with regulations. Do you know the answers to these questions by any chance?
    I got my ARN number through CASA recently, and applied for a license to fly commercially, stating where I intended to fly (shoalhaven) and they approved it. I notified then of my first commercial flight (under 2kgs) So I was guessing the map restrictions would have to be flexible otherwise they wouldn’t have approved it? I personally have The Mavic Pro drone (under 2kgs.)
    I have been flying for a while now, and as you probably already know, the noflyzone regs enforced in the DJI app don’t show much of the extensive Shoalhaven area that the particular app that CASA recommends does, (aside from the airports and the regular no-no’s). The CASA website regs for flying don’t state its compulsory to fly by this app’s regulational zones? And I’m not sure how they would enforce a region this large anyway?

    Also, I have always been curious…
    Would kids flying around ‘kmart style’ drones in their backyards be illegal in the shoalhaven? Does this rule apply to any fixed wing/drone and small toy too? eg, an action man with a plastic multirotor vehicle, that could only fly a few metres before crashing spectacularly! lol

    What about flying around your own private rural property in the shoalhaven zone? If the military are running training operations long distances from the base wouldn’t the same rules apply if another aircraft was coming towards you? Land immediately. Or at the very least, simply stay below a certain height in that area.

    Ahhh… (sigh) many questions, most likely with common sense logical answers/opinions that I would probably not ask CASA due to red tape and perhaps conflicting and non common sensical answers 😉

    Thanks again.
    Cheers!

    1. Yep. There’s a lot of hate for drones. Some of it is only to be expected of course because there are always going to be people who don’t care much for rules and regulations.

      With regard the CASA notification – it’s more of a box-ticking exercise to be honest. The no-fly zones for DJI drones (as I understand it) have not been fully implemented for various reasons so we hardly ever have to the the ‘approval to fly’ process through the app that they do in other countries such as the US.

      With regard kids drones – the law’s pretty black and white – if it flies then it falls under CASA’s rules. Doesn’t matter how big or small it is, when it leaves the ground it’s under regulations.

      As to flying over your own property – they just changed the rules to specifically permit this. And yes, normal rules apply too – so if you see an aircraft operating in the area you land. 🙂

  5. Andy it’s so weird then that you comment on peoples Instagram photos telling them they have done something wrong. Little do you know they are flying just after sunrise. You seem to be the one spreading the drone hate?

    1. Your photograph was taken at Murrays Beach which is inside Booderee. Doesn’t really matter that you took it a bit after sunrise (which I seriously doubt anyway), because there’s a complete and total ban on drones in Booderee. Like, total ban. Also that beach lies within the 5.5Km exclusion zone of the nearby military airfield, so even if there wasn’t a total and complete ban on drones in Booderee you still couldn’t fly there. Hyams Beach, fine, Chinamans, cool, Greenfields no problem, but Green Patch, Iluka, Scottish Rocks, Hole in the Wall, Murrays, Whiting, Summercloud, Steamers, Kittys and the rest of Booderee – all out of bounds to drones. So no mate, I’m not spreading drone hate, I’m just sick of muppets with Phantom 4s rocking up for the day from Sydney and shitting things up for the drone photographers who live here and observe the law.

      1. There is no need to be nasty. These were taken ages ago and as far as we knew we were doing the right thing. At the time there was also no singage and no apps to deter people from flying. Many people before us would have also made this same mistake. And we did ask around!

        1. The ban’s been in place since 1999. Admittedly they don’t go out of their way to let people know that drones are banned in the park but the onus is on the flier, not the park.

  6. I have flown places before that are off limits and done everything I thought at the time, in my power, to find out what was legal. If CASA wants to enforce these rules wouldn’t they be better to have in their top rules to check the ‘one’ app they use that actually tells us this info? Put it on their website and print outs etc.. alongside the main rules eg. dont fly over 120m, near people, near airports etc) Maybe mention to check CASA affiliated no fly zone app, military zones, and national park requirements.
    As I said, I had no idea earlier. So if someone was to let me know in a private message if I had posted an image that appeared to be breaking some rules, to check if I knew or not, I would be grateful!
    Hence I am grateful for this blog post letting me know about the local rules, which aren’t in the DJI software, so imo need to be made more clear by CASA, or people will keep unintentionally breaking them.
    We need to remember that not everyone breaking the rules does it out of ignorance or arrogance. Even sydneysiders 😉

    1. If anything the app has actually made things worse – on both sides of the fence. If you live here near Jervis Bay and you use the app you might be forgiven for thinking that you could never fly anywhere from Gerringong to Milton because of that huge restricted airspace zone. I only know that’s not the case because I spoke to the military. On the other hand if you use the app in a national park outside restricted airspace you will undoubtedly get the all clear, but the landowner may have very different rules. The central problem is that things could very easily be much worse than they are, such as in the US, where you cannot fly in any parks whatsoever and the danger is that unauthorised drone flights will force the authorities hand.

      1. Yes I have many friends with drones in the states. At least they have the DJI app. ugh.. so nothing out there really gives us aussies solid information on the rules. Frustrating for drone owners indeed. Thanks again for your info.

  7. Hi Andy,

    Above you stated that Hyams beach is fine. But it seems as though Hyams beach falls within the 5.5km radius. Could you explain what the rules would be for flying a small drone on Hyams or Chinamans beach (especially if flying below say 50m and 30m away from people?)

    1. They’re fine with it as long as you stay well clear of the approaches – which you will if you just fly over the beach. Keep to the northern end of Hyams. Alternatively just get in touch with the tower and they will give permission or not to fly further down. Lots of military activity this weekend in Jervis Bay though, so there won’t be any relaxation of the restricted airspace and no-fly zones.

      1. Thanks so much Andy! It wouldn’t be until February. Just going down for a Holiday but thought I might take it along with me. Thanks for the info! 🙂

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