An increasing number of drone users are being busted flying in breach of aviation rules in the ACT, and the regulator is set to catch even more using new surveillance technology.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson said of the five infringements issued by the authority in Canberra since the start of 2016, three had come in the first three months of this year. All involved private operators.
The three 2019 offences – hazardous operation in Civic, operation over 400 feet in Reid and operation within three nautical miles, or 5.5 kilometres, of an aerodrome at Mount Ainslie – all attracted a $1050 fine.
The other two infringements – flying over a populous area in Parkes in 2017, and operating a drone within 30 metres of a person not associated with the operation in Reid in 2016 – resulted in fines of $900.
A further four ACT matters are in the enforcement process. Two of them relate to people caught operating drones illegally at Canberra's New Year's Eve celebrations last year, which had been declared drone-free by the ACT government. Similarly, another two illegal operators were detected at the Skyfire fireworks festival on March 16.
Mr Gibson said new technology, rolled out by the authority for the first time at Skyfire, had allowed the authority's inspectors to catch those offenders.
"It just comes in a box with a screen that folds out, and a couple of aerials and other pieces of equipment," Mr Gibson said.
"It's about the size of a carry-on bag that you'd take on a plane, and it shows you where the drones are in the sky and also pinpoints where the person is on the ground operating the drone.
"So those two people, for a couple of pretty pictures at Skyfire, it could cost them more than $1000."
Mr Gibson said while contractors had previously carried out surveillance for the authority, Skyfire was the first time its own inspectors had been out with the new technology in search of wrongdoing.
"We're going to use it again in Canberra on Anzac Day," he said.
"There's also a surfing competition on the Gold Coast where we're planning to get it out, and maybe places like around Sydney Harbour. A lot of people want to put their drones up to get pictures there, but a lot of it's controlled airspace."
Mr Gibson said the technology would be used in a targeted way that focused on known problem areas or around events.
It shapes as another way for authorities to track down people who disobey drone laws, following the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's announcement earlier this week that drone pilots in Australia will need to pass an online education course to obtain a flyer's licence and register their drone from July.
Around the same time, Wing – an offshoot of Google's parent company Alphabet – hopes to launch a world-first drone delivery operation. It will operate from a Mitchell headquarters to service Gungahlin, Harrison, Franklin, Palmerston and Crace if approved by the authority.
The company's delivery drones created controversy during trials for the service conducted in the southern Canberra suburb of Bonython, where many residents complained about the noise the machines generated.
While companies can apply for exemptions to operate drones in breach of the usual regulations, as with the Wing trial, private operators must always stick to the laws.
This means many of the capital's landmarks are out of bounds for drones because they are within 5.5 kilometres of Canberra Airport, which is a controlled aerodrome. That means no drones above Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the Mount Ainslie lookout or the National Gallery of Australia.
A no-fly zone also exists around the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla.
You must also not fly within 5.5 kilometres of a non-controlled aerodrome, like the Hume helibase and Calvary Hospital landing area, if there is a manned aircraft coming to or from it.
Other basic laws for drones include no flying above 120 metres in any location, within 30 metres of people unless the other person is essential to controlling or navigating the drone, or in the vicinity of public safety or emergency operations like bushfires or search and rescue events.
Drones must always remain within the pilot's line of sight, and pilots can only operate one drone at a time.