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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 โ€œaircraftโ€ 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 12:00pmย  (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. You can also apply to fly in the airspace outside of those times by emailing the tower at 453sqnnwaflt.ops@defence.gov.au with at least 10 business days prior notice. If you do email them, make sure you give as much detail as possible, such as exact location(s), the maximum height you’ll be flying at and the times you intend to fly.

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.

39 Comments

  1. Kel Hockey

    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.

  2. DP

    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

  3. tanyawallis

    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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks again.
    Cheers!

    • Andy Hutchinson

      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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. kaede

    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?

    • Andy Hutchinson

      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.

      • kaedeker

        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!

  5. tanyawallis

    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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Andy Hutchinson

      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.

      • tanyawallis

        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.

  6. James

    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?)

    • Andy Hutchinson

      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.

      • James

        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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Teresa Bealey

    thanks for the info Andy the casa app give the impression that it’s a def no no to fly in the area. Hubby is now happy that we don’t have to pile in the car and rive for hours to use the drone, even if air time is somewhat limited

  8. Clare

    Hey, great article. Do you know if Honeymoon Bay & Point Perpendicular fall under this exclusion zone? It seems not, but wondered if you know more than what I can find on the web/apps. I fall into the sydney-siders category, but unlike a lot of droners I always make sure I contact a local or local authority before flying to 100% make sure its legal (even did this in Mexico recently and spoke to the local police to make sure it was ok to fly). I also fly in a discreet way that is not invading anyone’s privacy and for a short amount of time to just get a quick snap and land. There really is always someone ruining it for everyone else though.

  9. Hatershate

    Would be interested to know if the time restrictions are still correct as of Oct 2018? As will be staying South end of Hymens beach and want to take my Disco down now its all modded with pan also, itd be gr8 to do a lap of the bay. And yes I can follow it LOS I have little square mirrors placed on its fusalarge have had it inspected by CASA and as long as you can visually track your drone via VLOS its legal. Yeah amazed me also i kpcan see that thing furthest has been 7km away on a sunny day it looks like a UFO but regardless as can be track via VLOS according to CASA inspection it is legal. Always good to know you have RTH though.
    Anyway so as will be there for full 14days really appriciate it if you could confirm if those ruise still stand. Or if I should just contact the tower at the base?

    Cheeers

    • Andy Hutchinson

      Restrictions are the same – early morning till 8am is fine, weekends fine too, airspace normally active outside those times. It’s a great big area of military restricted airspace through which naval helicopters and jets transit regularly, but your main issue is the military airfield in Booderee, which is a couple of kilometres from your holiday house. That and the fact that drones are completely banned in Booderee, which makes up most of the southern side of the bay. Also not sure how you’d go with VLOS, even with a heavily tricked out drone, since the bay’s over 13km from Hyams to Hare Bay (Jervis Bay is larger than Sydney Harbour). I would definitely phone the control tower before any flights and/or check the status of the airspace in Oz Runways. So – how does the VLOS of site work at 7km? I thought the requirement was that you needed to be able to orient it visually in the sky – i.e. be able to tell by looking at it (not at an app) which way it was pointed?

  10. Sandra

    Great bit of info Andy. Full credit to you for all your efforts and I totally get why you have gone to this length. Just curious, for Honeymoon and Point Perp you say there’s no issue if you fly on weekends. Does the before 8am or after 12pm Friday rule apply here? I’m aware of the weapons range on the Beecroft Peninsula and wondered if that changed anything? Also, have you personally experienced any issues with your UAV flying here? I recall seeing at some point that a user experienced magnetic interference problems.

  11. Mel

    Hi Andy, thank you for this very informative post. We regularly stay in Huskisson and own a DJI Mavic Pro. Can I just confirm a few things? – Iโ€™m assuming Huskisson falls within the 5.5 km exclusion zone, but can we still fly the drone before 8am and on weekends? Do we need to check-in with the tower first if flying at these times, and if so, would you mind passing on the contact details for the tower? Thank you again for the great information.

  12. Tanya

    You say booderee and 5.5 kms radius from the military airfield is off limits. Which is true.
    Yet thereโ€™s an image of yours on social media of Kitty beach. Which is within both those areas????? ๐Ÿ˜•

    • Andy Hutchinson

      Hey Tanya. Spot on – it’s in Booderee and also well within the 5km of the airfield. If you look through my archive you’ll also see some taken on Greenpatch, Murrays, Hole in the Wall and Scottish Rocks – all within Booderee where drones are (as you know) completely banned. The answer to this conundrum is that they were all taken on one single day a couple of years ago. An adventure race took place in Jervis Bay in 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYFWo4oDCpo) and for one day and one day only, permission was given by the park for the use of drones and the airspace was cleared and the airfield was closed for 24 hours. I was working for Shoalhaven Council Tourism at the time, photographing all 100 beaches of the Shoalhaven for their marketing campaign (yes, all 100 beaches) and was given permission to fly my drone. All of which makes me pretty much the only person around to have legally taken my photographs in Booderee. Of course, the fact that drones are banned in Booderee and the fact that there’s a military airfield there doesn’t stop all folks from sending their drones up in the Commonwealth Park airspace – whether they do it despite the rules or in ignorance of them – I always do my utmost to respect park rules and CASA flight legislation. Cheers.

  13. Tanya

    Makes sense! Lucky you. Itโ€™s a great shot too!
    I do worry though as Shoalhaven Tourism is now posting your image on social media, along with other drone enthusiasts images from the bay. Maybe people will think itโ€™s ok to fly there. Or try to copy those shots. Who knows? Maybe they could put a comment on their last set of (mostly drone) pics they posted for at least visitors to check the no fly zone restrictions.
    Speaking of. I updated the casa affiliated app โ€˜Can I fly thereโ€™ lately and immediately deleted it for its insane privacy invasions with collecting user data now. There has been an uproar online about it. Any thoughts on that?
    That along with seeing the increasing instances of โ€˜drone rageโ€™ from non drone users since the situation at Gatwick has made me really hesitant flying at all these days. ๐Ÿ™

    • Andy Hutchinson

      You’re absolutely right. Not just Shoalhaven Tourism though – all the Australian tourist organisations do it. I’ve never asked but I’m pretty sure they take the view that the responsibility for ensuring a photograph has been taken legally is that of the photographer. There would be no come-back on them if a photographer was later fined for a particular photograph. You only have to look at the number of shots of whales and dolphins they share where the drone is quite obviously right over the top of the creature to realise that.

      As to the CASA app – it’s next to useless. The only app that is worth using is OzRunway and as that is intended for use by actual pilots, it is not the easiest bit of software to get your head around.

      Be a shame if everyone hung up their drone controllers though because the imagery they produce is sensational and would mean that big brother had won, yet again.

  14. Hugh Fraser

    Hi Andy. Thanks for providing such solid details. I am resident in Wollongong and am coming down to stay at Culburra beach for a few days. I am waiting for someone from HMAS Albatross to return a call to confirm the details of exclusion hours. I have spoken to national park rangers at Red Point, who were very helpful, and have submitted an application, but they could not help me with general defence force restrictions. I am flying a Mavic 2 Pro, have an ARN and certainly want to do the right thing.
    I note that you have commented previously that honeymoon bay is not in the national park. From your local knowledge, could I ask if there are any other good areas to fly (safely and responsibly) such as areas not in national parks. Many Thanks.

    • tenthousandshots

      Everything outside Booderee is fine when the restricted airspace is not active. I use OzRunWays to check airspace status as it is directly connected to the NoTAMs that Airservices Australia release.

  15. Tom gow

    Just went walk today Chinamans beach around 10 – 10-30 today see man flying drone. Asian man in suit. Thinking this strange to be dressed up on beach then drone flew over my head. Only small one. After coffee at Homes walk back. Navy helicopter flew pass similar height drone

  16. Joshua

    Hi
    Just wanted to check if this information is still valid, mainly the map & the use of drones within the purple area over the weekends etc, currently in the market in purchasing a drone & doing all my research prior. mainly use in shoalhaven river, callala / longbeach ect
    finding it really hard to access any information regarding this

    • tenthousandshots

      All still valid. That area of restricted airspace has been operating that way for 50 years and it isn’t changing any time soon. The best solution, if you want to fly legally, is simply to buy the OzRunWays app, along with a $100 annual subscription and then you can check the airspace status at any time and fly with a clear conscience.

  17. Rob

    Hello, thanks for providing the above info, very handy. Are these restrictions still the same for callala beach. I go down that way a lot and have never taken the drone out because of the difficulty getting info on the apps and generally been unsure. It would be great to get the drone up if I was able to. Thanks again

  18. Mark

    Hi Andy, thanks for all the info. Are these airspace restrictions the same during school holidays? We’ll be down at Currarong early January armed with a new Mavic Mini, would be nice to grab some shots when the moment takes you without having to worry about restrictions.
    What do you think of the first CASA-verified drone app, ‘OpenSky’?
    Cheers.

    • tenthousandshots

      Yea the restrictions don’t change too much at any time of the year. The airspace is usually not restricted on public holidays like Xmas day but you need to check using the OzRunways app. Opensky is okay for the limited info it gives but it doesn’t show if restricted airspace is active or not.

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