'A noisy nuisance': Drones slammed in submissions to new inquiry
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'A noisy nuisance': Drones slammed in submissions to new inquiry

Household delivery drones are an invasive, under-regulated technology whose potential benefits to the ACT would not outweigh the disturbance to the local community and environment.

That is the overwhelming sentiment expressed in the first batch of submissions to an ACT Assembly inquiry examining the technology's presence in the nation's capital.

Bonython residents Elizabeth Stokker, Nev Sheather and Margaret Sinfield, pictured above, have been vocal opponents of the drone delivery trial

Bonython residents Elizabeth Stokker, Nev Sheather and Margaret Sinfield, pictured above, have been vocal opponents of the drone delivery trial Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

The inquiry was ordered last year in the midst of Wing's drone trial in Bonython, which split the local community as opponents campaigned relentlessly against the service.

A total of 39 submissions have been lodged with the committee, with all but a few expressing a negative view of the Bonython trial and strong opposition to the service's expansion to other parts of Canberra.

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Wing is planning to establish a permanent base in Mitchell, which is expected to launch delivery drones into nearby Gungahlin, Crace, Palmerston, Franklin and Harrison by the middle of the year.

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In their 34-page submission, Nev and Andrea Sheather, who have led the residents' group opposing the Bonython trial, said the service had created angst in the community, exposed a lack of regulation of the evolving technology and caused disturbances to residents and local wildlife.

"I have never ... seen such an emotional reaction by people to this drone trial," the couple's submission read.

"Distressed mothers, frightened children, frustrated families and many others aggravated by the invasion of drones.

"Whilst the main immediate issue with the drones was the noise, the loss of wildlife and birds in the area was also significant. This was reported by many residents. The loss of our peacefulness and amenities was immediate."

Their submission detailed an apparent lack of government oversight during the trial, causing confusion for residents whose complaints were bounced between, but seemingly never dealt with by, various territory and commonwealth agencies.

Other submissions raised concerns about an invasion of privacy, the "commercialisation of airspace" and limited public information on the approval and regulation of the Google-backed company's trial, which finished earlier this month.

One representor suggested a drone be flown over each of the committee members' homes so they could experience the aircraft's full "obnoxiousness".

A handful of submissions did support the technology.

In her submission, Irene Clarke said the delivery drones had provided a convenient, environmentally-friendly service for her family.

"Who would not love a coffee every morning with a healthy yoghurt or toastie within 10 minutes delivered to your own background ... no queues, no petrol, no impact on the environment?" Ms Clarke's submission read.

Wing chief executive James Ryan Burgess, pictured above, with one of the household delivery drones

Wing chief executive James Ryan Burgess, pictured above, with one of the household delivery dronesCredit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Ms Clarke played down concerns about the drone's noise, and said pets and wildlife appeared not to have been disturbed by the aircraft.

The most positive endorsement of the service came from consultant AlphaBeta, which Wing commissioned during the Bonython trial to assess the technology 's potential in the ACT.

The consultant's analysis, published in its submission, found delivery drones could have wide-reaching benefits for local businesses, consumers and the environment.

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It estimated drone delivery could grow retail sales in the ACT by $30-$40 million and slash delivery costs by $12 million by 2030.

Consumers would save a combined three million hours on foregone pick-up journeys, according to AlphaBeta's analysis, which also found the aerial delivery method would slash 8000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

"Drones have the potential to transform retail around the world, and the ACT is at the forefront of this change, with regional trials demonstrating how delivery drones can bring a wider range of products within rural and suburban consumers’ reach," the submission read.

Canberra Business Chamber also backed the technology, saying it could create new markets for local businesses.

The chamber called for regulation to ensure air safety and to minimise "unnecessary disturbances" to residents and wildfile. It also insisted that the Canberra market be open to any new drone delivery operators.

Submissions to the inquiry are open until Friday, February 22.

Dan Jervis-Bardy is a Canberra Times reporter.

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