The Civil Aviation Safety Authority approved a household delivery drone service for Canberra's south, despite the ACT government warning it could expose it to a community backlash and possible legal action.
Documents released under freedom of information have revealed the scope of concerns about Wing's operation in Bonython, including fears about noise pollution, intrusion of privacy, harm to animals and potential exposure to civil litigation.
It comes as Bonython residents on Tuesday delivered a 1000-signature petition to the ACT Assembly, calling on parliamentarians to block future household drone delivery services in the capital, including Wing's planned operation in Canberra's northern suburbs.
The US-based tech company has faced constant opposition during its trial in Tuggeranong, with residents' and parliamentarians' concerns about the service, as well as the process for approving and overseeing the operation, prompting the assembly to launch an inquiry into delivery drones in the ACT.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has now released a series of documents that detail the process for approving Wing's operation, which commenced flights in July.
As part of the process, the ACT government's environment, planning and sustainable development directorate presented a risk management plan to the authority, which flagged potential issues with the service and attempted to allocate regulatory oversight to different parties.
The draft report said Wing's proposed service had not been provided anywhere else in the world, meaning some of the risks were "unknowable".
But it said the aircraft - which fly up to 125 kilometres per hour - could lead to a number of disturbances to the local community.
The "high-pitched" buzzing noise emitted during flights could irritate residents, while the drones might also startle domestic pets, causing them to flee, according to the report.
The directorate raised concerns about the potential for the drones to intrude on people's "reasonable expectation" of privacy, including by taking photos of backyards, schoolyards and private land.
It said Wing had advised it would not store images, but noted that global retail giant Amazon was reportedly planning to use drones to collect information about households to support targeted advertising.
In the report, the directorate also warned the government would face criticism for permitting drones flights, given they were not envisaged under ACT planning rules.
The delivery service could also expose the territory to possible legal action, the report found, including from drivers, cyclists or pedestrians who might become distracted by the aircraft.
"We understand that there may that there may have been discussions regarding a tortious actions in negligence to the ACT Govt [sic] for having approved the drone trial. Tenuous, perhaps, but that would not rule out a member of the public bringing such an action or, for instance, such findings being made in a coronial inquest."
The draft report was emailed to the aviation authority officials on December 20, who recommended the trial be given the green light in late January.
Documents showed the authority granted exemptions to allow the trial to proceed, including permitting Unmanned Systems Australia, which operates the drones on behalf of Wing, to fly the aircraft within 30 metres of people and to operate in a populated area.
Final approval for the exemptions was granted on June 21.
In a notice of recommendation, the authority's technical specialist, Simon Denby, said the operator had presented a "satisfactory safety case to support the operation".
It noted Unmanned Systems Australia had undertaken more than eight months of flights across Australian, with no reports of crash or accidents.
"The operations were found to meet or exceed all threat and harm barriers," Mr Denby's assessment found.
Wing has not reported any accidents or crashes during its Bonython trial, but has twice been forced to undertake so-called "contingency landings", where the automated aircraft decides to land because of unsafe conditions.
Despite the safety record, Bonython resident Nev Sheather - who has been co-ordinating the action group opposing the trial - said the drone delivery services should never have been permitted.
"Any one of the safety issues outlined in the risk management report would have been cause to not let it go ahead, let alone 10 or 12 [issues] together," Mr Sheather said.
"This process has been flawed from the start."
Mr Sheather said the scale of community opposition to the trial was evidenced by the number of signatures to the petition, which were collected during doorknocks and at gatherings in the suburb.
About half of the 1024 signatures came from residents in Bonython, a suburb of about 3500 people.
The petition calls for immediate halt to the Bonython trial, which is due to finish in February, and urges the government to commit to banning future drone delivery services in the ACT.
Mr Sheather said that would include Wing's planned operation in Canberra's northern suburbs, which will be based in Mitchell and provide deliveries to nearby Gungahlin, Palmerston, Grace, Harrison and Franklin.
Wing spokesman Jonathan Bass said it would use feedback from the Bonython trial to refine the service ahead of its launch in Mitchell, which is slated for early 2019.
"We’re investing in long-term operations in Canberra because we strongly believe we will be able to create a service that the vast majority of ACT residents support," Mr Bass said. "Our service in Mitchell will increase sales for local businesses, result in cleaner air, and make Canberrans and local wildlife safer by taking cars off the road."