Drones in parks policy

Drones are a valuable tool for managing national parks, but they can cause problems. If you want to fly a drone in a national park or reserve, you will need approval.

Drone flying above coastline, Tomaree National ParkThe National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) uses drones for park management and operational purposes, such as:

  • search and rescue activities
  • controlling weeds and pest animals
  • monitoring beach erosion
  • inspecting assets.

Other organisations also use drones for activities that support public use and enjoyment of parks or conservation, including surf life-saving and scientific research.

NPWS recognises that drones can sometimes be used in a park for recreational and commercial purposes that are unrelated to park management.

Flying drones in parks can impact visitors and disturb native animals. Drones can also dangerously interfere with fighting bushfires and other park management activities. Careful management of drone use is required to avoid these risks.

Drone users must get approval before launching, landing or operating a drone from within a park.

What is a drone and how are they regulated?

A drone is a type of aircraft. Other names for drones are remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulates the use of drones under the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR). If you use a drone in a park, you must ensure it is airworthy, fly it safely, and follow CASA rules and regulations.

In some parks, or parts of parks, use of recreational drones may be excluded for a range of reasons, such as impacts to visitor amenity or the presence of natural or cultural values that are sensitive to disturbance. The use of drones is also prohibited in parks that are close to controlled aerodromes, such as Sydney Airport.

Policy

  1. Yes. Approval is required to launch, land or operate a drone from within a park for recreational purposes, as drones can interfere with or cause a nuisance to people or animals.
  1. To seek approval, you must complete the application form (DOC 65KB) and send it to the relevant NPWS Office. You can find the relevant NPWS Office for the park in which you wish to fly a drone at: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
  1. In assessing an application for using a drone outside an identified drone exclusion area (see paragraph 8), NPWS will consider whether the proposed use will:
    • annoy or cause risk to visitors, or invade their privacy
    • be a nuisance or cause risk to wildlife
    • interfere with park management operations (including helicopter operations and use of helipads)
    • impact on areas with sensitive natural or cultural values (for example, nature reserves, wilderness areas or Aboriginal Places).
  2. NPWS may approve or refuse an application. If an application is approved, it may include conditions.
  3. You can fly a drone only in the park, or part of the park, covered by the approval and consistent with any conditions. You must carry a copy of the approval with you (in hard copy or electronic form) and produce it if requested by a NPWS officer.
  1. Conditions in parks can change at short notice, for example, during a bushfire or other emergency.
  2. If you have approval you must still check the Alerts for NSW National Parks page before you fly, as further restrictions on flying drones may be imposed. Any restrictions on park access or visitation identified in an alert must be complied with and will override any approval for drone use.
  1. A drone exclusion area is a park, or parts of a park, where recreational drones cannot be launched, landed or operated because their impact on visitors, park management operations, wildlife or other sensitive natural or cultural values would be too high.
  2. A drone exclusion area can be determined by the NPWS Branch Director or identified in a plan of management for the park.
  3. If a drone exclusion area has been created, NPWS may install signs to communicate this to park visitors at park entrances or particular locations such as lookouts and picnic areas. Signs will be primarily considered for parks or locations with high numbers of visitors.
  4. Information about drone exclusion areas will be provided on the National Parks visitor information web page for the park at Visit a park.
  5. Drone use may occur in a drone exclusion area for the purposes of park management, visitor safety, conservation, research or commercial activities subject to relevant approvals being obtained as set out in this policy.
  1. In addition to seeking approval to fly from NPWS, you must also make sure that you are flying according to CASA regulations. A full list of CASA drone safety rules can be found on the CASA droneflyer website (always check the website for the current rules).
  2. You can also use a CASA-approved drone safety app to find further information about the location where you want to fly your drone. Approved drone safety apps can be accessed on the CASA website.

Key CASA rules for drone use (check CASA website for a full list)

  • You must not fly your drone over or above people, or within 30 metres of people.
  • You must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres (400 ft) above the ground.
  • You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway.
  • You must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person, or property.
  • You must only fly during the day and keep your drone within visual line-of-sight.
  • Respect personal privacy and don't record or photograph people without their consent.
  • If your drone weighs more than 100 grams:
    • you must keep your drone at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes (usually those with a control tower).
    • you may fly within 5.5km of a non-controlled aerodrome or helicopter landing site (HLS) only if manned aircraft are not operating to or from the aerodrome
    • if you become aware of manned aircraft operating to or from the aerodrome/ HLS, you must manoeuvre away from the aircraft and land as soon as safely possible.
  1. No. Ski resorts in NSW are in Kosciuszko National Park. The plan of management for the park prohibits the landing and take-off of powered aircraft for recreational purposes, including drones, across the entire park.
  1. You must keep your drone more than 100 metres above a marine mammal and more than 100 metres horizontally away from a marine mammal. If you fly a drone closer than that you can be fined up to $3300.
  2. The Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 sets out all the safe approach distances for aircraft, including drones, so that marine mammals are not disturbed.
  1. No. Drones can be a risk to the safe operation of firefighting aircraft during bushfires or hazard reduction burns.
  2. Before you fly, you must check the Alerts for NSW National Parks page for information on bushfire or hazard reduction burns in the park. Any restrictions on park access or visitation identified in an Alert must be followed and will override any approval.
  1. CASA has rules about flying a drone close to aerodromes and helicopter landing sites. It is the drone user's responsibility to comply with these rules and obtain any necessary approvals before flying.
  2. Check the CASA website, the CASA Drone Flyer website or a CASA-approved drone safety app for full details of restrictions.
  3. Some national parks have operational helipads that are used for park management activities. NPWS will consider the potential impacts and risks to these helipads when assessing an application for drone use in a park.
  1. Yes. Any commercial or business activity carried out in a park requires a formal approval such as a lease, licence, permit or consent.
  2. Commercial use of drones in parks often involves commercial filming and photography. The Filming and Photography Policy sets out the process for obtaining approval for this purpose. For other types of commercial use of drones in parks contact NPWS for guidance.
  3. A commercial drone user may also need to be licenced and certified by CASA and notify CASA before flying. CASA guidelines must be checked to establish requirements for individual operations. It is the drone user's responsibility to ensure that the drone is operated according to CASA regulations.
  1. NPWS uses drones for a range of park management purposes, including survey, research and fire management. All drone operations by NPWS must comply with NPWS policies and CASA regulations.
  2. NPWS Aviation Unit and ParkAir are part of the Fire and Incident Management Branch, and have key roles in the management of drone use:
    • the Aviation Unit provides advice on all aviation-related issues, including the use of drones by both staff and contractors.
    • ParkAir provides drone services to NPWS.
  3. NPWS staff should contact the Aviation Unit and ParkAir to confirm any requirements for using drones.

Policy adopted February 2016

Policy last updated June 2019

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) except for lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act (unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy). However, NPWS staff can use the policy as guidance in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Objectives

This policy aims to:

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

Definitions

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is the Commonwealth government agency responsible for ensuring aviation safety. CASA regards drones as aircraft and sets the rules and regulations for drone use.

Controlled aerodrome means an aerodrome at which an aircraft control service is provided.

Drone means a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), sometimes called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Park means a reserve gazetted under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, including a national park, nature reserve, historic site, Aboriginal area, state conservation area, karst conservation reserve, regional park or any land acquired by the Minister under Part 11 of the Act.

Accountabilities

Paragraph Position accountable
1. Approval for recreational use of drones in a park Area Manager
9. Establishing drone exclusion areas (not in plan of management) Branch Director
23-24. Approval for commercial filming using a drone As specified in the Filming and Photography Policy
26-28. NPWS use of drones Consult NPWS Fire and Incident Management Branch
16. Approval of commercial or professional uses of drones in parks NPWS's Aviation Coordinator

The accountable officer may allocate this role to an officer authorised under the relevant Department of Planning, Industry and Environment delegation instrument. Staff can access the delegation instruments on the intranet.