Delivery drone trial boss fronts ACT government committee

The head of Canberra's delivery-drone trial has said the "grey area" around regulation in Australia has seen the company on the fly.

It followed a day of the ACT government hearing from drone opponents about the lack of a centralised body to complain to.

Project Wing brought one of their drones to the ACT government committee hearing on drones on Wednesday. Photo: Finbar O'Mallon

Project Wing brought one of their drones to the ACT government committee hearing on drones on Wednesday. Photo: Finbar O'Mallon

But Project Wing chief executive James Burgess said there were three entities involved in drones in Canberra, including the ACT government, the federal aviation watchdog - the Civil Aviation Safety Authority - and Air Services Australia.

"There's maybe some grey area about the total remit or authority of different agencies to govern different aspects of systems like this," Mr Burgess said on Wednesday.

Project Wing, a company owned by Alphabet which in turns owns search giant Google, has recently finished a delivery drone trial in Bonython.

The trial had divided the community, with a citizens group - Bonython Against Drones - forming to focus mainly on concerns around the noise of the drones as well as privacy and safety concerns.

Members of the group told the committee on Wednesday that they had limited avenues for raising concerns and were often told by government agencies to direct complaints to Wing itself through a contact sheet online.

"Those are [government] entities I think community members should be able to approach," Mr Burgess said.

Committee chair and Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson regularly questioned most guests if there should be a centralised agency or uniform laws.

"Are you finding your way in the dark with this as well?" Mr Hanson said to Mr Burgess.

"We understand new technology when it arrives, especially when it has the potential to be disruptive to the current ways we behave in society, generally doesn't fit into existing frameworks," Mr Burgess said.

Mr Hanson asked Mr Burgess if there was any way for the ACT government to propose no-fly zones, with the nature of the civil aviation authority's no-fly zones applying to areas like airports or prisons.

"That can't be imposed on your or other operators, that's what you're saying? It's only through goodwill?" Mr Hanson said.

Mr Burgess said when their drones took to the air they were mainly bound by federal aviation laws but there was more room for local regulation.

"We think there's more room for more input [from different agencies] ... to take into account the very local nature of some of these operations," Mr Burgess said.

He said Wing had received feedback from 119 residents in Bonython, with 60 per cent positive and 40 per cent negative.

The majority of the criticism, 91 per cent, was directed at the noise of the drones according to Mr Burgess.

The company is currently awaiting the green light to begin its trial in Canberra's north, including Mitchell, Crace, Franklin, Gungahlin and Palmerston.

From there it planned to involve "over two dozen" Mitchell food retailers as part of its trial and he said they had received "quite a lot" of interest from Mitchell businesses when scouting the trial's second location.

Mr Burgess said the trial was one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, with limited trials approved on Project Wing's homeland in the United States.

So far he said there had been no safety residents. While opponents had reported a drone in Bonython had hit a car, Mr Burgess later said a delivery drone had dropped its package on the car of a person receiving a delivery.

He blamed this on the fact the car's owner had parked it in a spot it normally didn't occupy but the cardboard package didn't damage the car.

Mr Burgess said Wing currently had an independent report on the effects its drones was having on Canberra wildlife, but it would need to be redacted before it was publicly released because of commercially sensitive information in the report.