A "concerning" lack of regulatory oversight of household delivery drones might never have been addressed without the intervention of a Canberra residents' group, an ACT Assembly inquiry has found.
The Assembly committee inquiring into household delivery drones handed down its final report on Thursday, paying tribute to the Bonython residents whose vocal opposition to Wing's service prompted the federal government - and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack - to belatedly acknowledge its responsibility for regulating the technology.
The federal transport department has since launched a review of noise regulations for recreational and commercial drones.
The committee also concluded the Google-linked company's efforts to consult with residents before launching last year into Tuggeranong were "insufficient", as it called for more transparency as the service expands to other parts of Canberra.
The committee considered 150 submissions and held three public hearings during the inquiry, which was ordered amid widespread community and political unease about Wing's Bonython trial.
The report noted that the noise emitted by the aircraft was the "single largest source of negative feedback" during the Bonython trial, and the "single biggest obstacle to community acceptance" of the technology more broadly.
It quoted various descriptions of the aircraft's noise, including one likening the sound to that of an "F1 car a couple of blocks away" and another comparing it to "the whine of a dentist's drill overhead while enjoying the solitude of the bush".
Aside from the "annoying and intrusive" noise of the aircraft themselves, it was the "concerning picture of a lack of regulatory oversight" which emerged as the most significant issue among residents, the committee found.
Representatives from the ACT government, Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Air Services Australian fronted public hearings at the inquiry, with each confirming they did not have responsibility for regulating drone noise.
It was following those revelations that the Bonython residents' group, known as "Bonython Against Drones", wrote to the committee arguing that drones should be subject to the federal transport department's aircraft noise approval process.
The Canberra Times publicly revealed those claims on April 9, when they were pushed by Bonython resident and aviation safety expert Ian McIntyre.
At the time, the department said the type and weight of Wing's drones meant it was exempt from the process. Mr McIntyre repeatedly rejected that assertion.
But on June 17, the department conceded the aircraft should be governed by the approval process, as it committed to investigate rules for drone noise in the future.
In a July letter to committee chairman Jeremy Hanson, which was included in the report, Mr McCormack confirmed his department had now "formed the view" the noise regulations applied to drones.
In the meantime, the department granted approval for Wing to deliver to 100 homes in Crace, Palmerston and Franklin until July 31. It has now extended those approvals until January 2020, with flights also now permitted into Harrison.
In the report, the committee said that without the group's intervention, it was likely the federal authorities would have continued to "misinterpret the relevant legislation".
"With the department now aware of its role in regulating drone noise there is now a clear avenue for community concern about the noise of drone delivery services to be addressed," the report stated.
The committee put forward four recommendations, including that information about Wing's operation, and the rules governing it, be made more easily accessible.
It also encouraged the government and Wing to survey wildlife numbers and behavior prior to, and following, the arrival of drones in particular areas, as it acknowledged a lack of "clear evidence" on the impact of the aircraft on animals.
The committee suggested the government provide information to Australian Information Privacy Commissioner Angelene Faulk to allow her to consider the possible need to place restrictions on drones collecting personal information during flights.
Wing's drones are fitted with cameras, which the company has said take "low resolution images" for the purpose of reviewing flights.
The committee said while it did not believe Wing's drones breached residents' privacy, it remained concerned about how personal data could be collected.
"Drones are capable of capturing information from a significant number of non-users who have no contractual relationship with the drone service provider," it noted.
"While the committee notes Wing's expressions of goodwill in this area, the committee does not believe relying on individual company's goodwill is a sustainable basis to address the privacy concerns of non-users."
Bonython Against Drones spokesman Nev Sheather was pleased the group's concerns had been vindicated, but said the committee's recommendations did not go "nearly as far as we would like".
"Though they [the committee] found the consultation process was flawed, there are no recommendations [requiring the company] to consult, and get permission from, the communities they intend to overfly in the future," Mr Sheather.
A Wing spokeswoman said the company welcomed the report.
"We will continue to work collaboratively with the ACT government, our regulators, and the broader Canberra community on their feedback and recommendations," she said.
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