Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

Drones in parks policy

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) recognises that drones can be an invaluable tool in national parks for search and rescue, event photography, and scientific research. NPWS also relies on drones to survey weeds and pest animals, monitor beach erosion, and record heritage assets.

Recreational uses of drones in parks can interfere with visitors' enjoyment and individuals' privacy, and can impact on wildlife. They can also dangerously interfere with park operations, such as fire management.

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Visitors wishing to use drones in parks must obtain consent from the park manager.

Drones are aircraft and are covered by civil aviation laws. NPWS does not control aircraft above parks, but can regulate certain behaviour in parks. It is up to the operator of a drone to ensure that it is airworthy, and is flown safely and in accordance with Commonwealth aviation regulations.

What is an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone?

A drone - also called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) - is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard which is remotely controlled.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) refers to drones as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), or sometimes as UAVs. RPA is the term used by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the international aviation regulator.

Both terms - UAV and RPA - are used commonly by drone users.

Are drones a type of aircraft?

Yes. CASA regards drones as aircraft and therefore they are covered by the Commonwealth Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR). It is up to the operator of a drone to ensure that it is airworthy, and is flown safely consistent with the rules under CASR Part 101 (PDF 339KB).

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act). This policy does not apply to lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy. However, the policy still provides guidance for staff in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Objectives

This Policy aims to:

  • provide clear guidelines for the recreational and commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles in parks
  • provide clear guidelines for NPWS's use of unmanned aerial vehicles in parks
  • balance the commercial and recreational use of unmanned aerial vehicles in parks with NPWS's responsibilities to protect wildlife and to provide opportunities for the public appreciation and enjoyment of a park's natural and cultural values.

Policy

What are the rules for recreational use of drones in parks?

  1. NPWS may grant consent for the recreational use of drones in a park when:
    • they will not annoy or cause risk to visitors, including the privacy of visitors
    • they will not be a nuisance or cause risk to wildlife
    • they will not interfere with park management operations, and
    • the drone user operates only in the area covered by the consent.
  1. Park managers can inform visitors that consent is required to use drones in a park by:
    • signs at a park entrance or at locations in parks
    • written notices given to visitors, or
    • oral directions issued to visitors.
  1. If consent is granted, and before using a drone in a park, visitors should check the Alerts page of the NPWS visitor website for the latest advice about fires and floods affecting parks or park closures.
  2. Access to parks may be restricted or prohibited on days of heightened fire danger - i.e. when the fire danger rating is 'Very High' or above.
  3. Drones - if the park manager has granted consent for their use - should always be flown consistent with CASA's Flying with Control? rules for recreational drone users. That means they must be flown in line-of-sight (i.e. visible to the operator); not over populous areas; not within 5.5 kilometres of an airfield; and at least 30 metres from other people.

Do I need to get approval for commercial filming with a drone in a park?

  1. Yes - drones are considered to be aircraft for aviation purposes. The NPWS Filming and Photography Policy (PDF 151KB) requires that 'the consent [for using aircraft for filming in a park] should be dealt with under the Filming Approval Act 2004'. It is also the applicant's responsibility to obtain any necessary approvals under the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1988.

What about using a drone in a ski resort?

  1. The use of drones in Thredbo and in the Perisher Resorts in Kosciuszko National Park is restricted, as each resort has a helicopter landing site (HLS). The HLS in each resort is surrounded by a 5.5 kilometres (3 nautical mile) exclusion zone, which effectively includes the whole of each resort's operational area - i.e. all buildings, ski lifts, ski runs and other facilities.
  2. The use of drones in the ski resorts either for recreation or a commercial purpose requires approval from the resort operator.

What are the rules for using drones in controlled airspace or close to airfields?

  1. All aircraft operations above 400 feet in controlled airspace (including with drones) require approval from the relevant air traffic service provider. To enter controlled airspace, an aircraft operator must first gain a clearance from either Airservices Australia (for civilian airports), or the Department of Defence (for military facilities and RAAF airports). (Advice from Airservices Australia).
  2. Drones should not be flown (without approval) within 5.5 kilometres (3 nautical miles) of an airport, airfield or a registered helicopter landing site (HLS) identified by CASA. Many urban parks and parts of other popular parks are within 5.5 kilometres of an airport, airfield or registered HLS - e.g. Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Sydney Harbour NP, Lane Cove NP, Coffs Coast Regional Park, Tomaree NP, Yuraygir NP (part), Blue Mountains NP (part) and Ku-ring-gai Chase NP (part).
  3. For a helicopter landing site to be included on CASA's list of registered sites, it must be maintained consistent with CASA's Guidelines for the establishment and operation of onshore Helicopter Landing Sites (PDF 343KB) published in February 2014.

Can using drones in a park be prohibited in a plan of management?

  1. Yes. If a plan of management states that drones are not to be used, NPWS must erect signs in the park or issue directions to visitors.

Can drones be used by the public during bushfires?

  1. No. Drones can be a risk to the safe operation of firefighting aircraft during bushfires or hazard reduction burns.
  2. CASA has produced a brochure titled Don't Go There! (PDF 496KB), warning of the risks of using UAVs near bushfires. The principal risks are a drone colliding with a helicopter's tail rotor or an aeroplane's propeller; and firefighting aircraft being grounded to avoid colliding with a drone.

Can drones be flown close to marine mammals?

  1. No. Operators of UAVs must comply with the minimum approach distances for all aircraft specified in the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009. This means that a UAV must not fly lower than 300 metres above a marine mammal, within a horizontal radius of 300 metres, or within 80 metres if it is a seal pup or sea lion pup.
  2. The maximum fine for breaching the approach distances for marine mammals is currently $110,000.

Who approves OEH's use of drones in parks?

  1. Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH)'s Chief Controller for drones is responsible for supervising OEH's use of drones and for the preparation of relevant UAV manuals required by CASA regulations. The Chief Controller is located in NPWS's Fire and Incident Management Section.

Do drone operators employed by NPWS need CASA certification?

  1. Commercial or professional users of drones more than 2 kg in parks need to hold a UAV Operator's Certificate (UOC) under CASR Part 101. Commercial users of drones less than 2 kg need to comply with CASA's standard operating conditions for sub 2 kg drones.
  2. NPWS's Fire and Incident Management Section maintains a Non-Fire Approved Operator List for Aviation Operations. A commercial or professional UAV user must be approved by NPWS and added to that list before being engaged by NPWS.

Relevant Legislation

  • Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Commonwealth)
  • Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (Commonwealth)
  • Filming Approval Act 2004
  • National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
  • National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009

Definitions and abbreviations

Aircraft means 'any machine or craft that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air, other than the reactions of the air against the earth's surface' (Commonwealth Civil Aviation Act 1988, section 3).

Airservices Australia is the Commonwealth government agency responsible for managing air traffic.

CASA = Civil Aviation Safety Authority (the Commonwealth government agency responsible for ensuring aviation safety).

CASR Part 101 = Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998, Part 101.

Drone - also called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) - is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard which is remotely controlled.

HLS = helicopter landing site.

RPA = remotely piloted aircraft.

UAV = unmanned aerial vehicle.

UOC = UAV Operator's Certificate (issued by CASA under CASR Part 101.

Accountabilities

ParagraphPosition Accountable
1. Consent for the recreational use of drones in a park Area Manager
6. Approval for filming with a drone in a park Area Manager, Regional Manager
9-11. Using drones in controlled airspace or close to helicopter landing sites Airservices Australia (for civilian airports), or the Department of Defence (for military facilities and RAAF airports)
17. OEH's use of drones in parks NPWS's Chief Controller of drones
18. Approval of commercial or professional uses of drones in parks NPWS's Aviation Coordinator
Page last updated: 11 January 2017