A Coalition senator has called for a ban on the use of unlicensed drones following an appearance at a senate committee on their use.
Queensland senator Barry O’Sullivan is advocating for a recall on all drones operating without a commercial license until regulations preventing further mid-air incidents are brought in.
The senate committee, examining regulations surrounding the use of drones in Australia, held its last public hearing in Canberra in late August.
“If there’s a rag doll at Kmart that has a button come off and a child could choke as a result, if one child is at risk, every one of them is recalled and taken off the shelf,” he said.
“Yet here we have drones in a box that can impact on passenger aircraft, and we’re paralysed in efforts to bring it to a halt.
“If I were king for a day, every drone in this nation, other than the ones that are commercially licensed, would join the rag dolls in the same room.”
The final public hearing of the committee heard testimony from members of Airservices Australia, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
The committee heard there were around 180 near misses between drones and other aircraft last year.
Senator O’Sullivan said those who fly drones should be subjected to similar levels of aviation training as other pilots, to ensure no near misses happen.
“I don’t place any different value on one aircraft over another, whether it’s manned or unmanned. As far as I’m concerned they’re the same,” he said.
“But one airborne craft is piloted by people who are pre-eminently trained in all sort of aviation principles and aircraft management, compared to the other craft that’s piloted by a 15-year-old that just got a drone out of a box and has never been in control of any airborne craft that’s sharing the same space.”
Jeff Cotter is the director of the Drone Flight Academy in Canberra, which runs courses on building drones as well as training people how to fly them responsibly.
He said he can understand the senator’s stance but said calling for a total ban now was “too little, too late”.
“One of the big issues with drones is that it’s not so much the fault of the people buying them, but the vendors,” he said.
“People sell them as toys, and it’s reasonable to forgive the customers for not realising that there are restrictions around their use.”
CASA regulations prevent drone users from flying in populous areas, within 30 metres of people, no higher than 120 metres and at least 5.5 kilometres away from airfields.
Mr Cotter said while a total ban on drones may not work, he said a ban on selling them at retail stores was one solution to prevent mid-air incidents.
“It’s a matter of better education and preventing them being sold in toy shops,” he said.
“Drones being self-regulated would be a way to go, and you can have some kind of national body made up of enthusiasts and you have to be a member of a club and can only fly at registered sites.”
With drones becoming more popular, Mr O’Sullivan said urgent action was required in order to make Australian airspaces safer.
There’s an estimated 50,000 drones in Australia with companies such as Dominos and Australia Post exploring options of using drones for deliveries.
“All of the issues with drones were forseeable and the challenges were predictable, and we should have stopped the sales of airborne devices that have any potential to impact on air safety,” he said.