A simple mistake has left a drone owner $1050 out of pocket. File Photo.
A simple mistake has left a drone owner $1050 out of pocket. File Photo.

Drone hobbyist slapped with gigantic fine for illegal flying

A DRONE hobbyist has been slapped with an enormous $1050 after accidentally hovering in a no-go zone in Canberra last year.

Jake Walsh-Roberts entered a plea of guilty to two commonwealth offences before Kingaroy Magistrates Court today, including the contravention of a direction, namely not to operate an unmanned aircraft near an aerodrome; and operating a drone over a populous area at a height too low to enable people to clear the area should the aircraft fail.

At 6.15pm on February 4, 2019, a member of the public noticed an unmanned aircraft being flown by a man from a carpark at Ainslie, near the lookout. It was flying over the top of the lookout and over the heads of people walking along the Ainslie Summit Walk Track below.

The second charge relates to commonwealth legislation, stating a person must not operate an unmanned aircraft with 3 nautical miles of an airport.

According to police prosecutor Pepe Gangemi, "the Ainslie lookout is approximately 3.6km or 1.9 nautical miles from Canberra Airport".

For this more serious offence, the AFP referred the matter to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for investigation.

Walsh-Roberts was issued with an infringement notice of $1050, which he failed to pay.

There were multiple attempts to contact him, without response, before the matter was ultimately referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

CASA provided Kingaroy court with a sentencing submission, which said "the offence is not trivial" and the rising popularity of drones among the population justifies the need for general deterrence. This enables CASA to adequately "promote community safety in relation to drones".

According to Defence lawyer Chris Campbell, Walsh-Roberts didn't realise there was a walkway below the lookout. Having not visited Canberra in many years, he did not take the growth of infrastructure into account.

He was also unaware the $2500 Mavic Pro drone didn't have software to stop it taking off within 3 nautical miles of an airport.

Magistrate Andrew Sinclair said "I think the most important thing in sentencing you is to take into account the need for general deterrence - to encourage other hobbyists to familiarise themselves with the rules."

Walsh-Roberts was convicted and fined $1050 for both offences. A conviction has been recorded.

South Burnett


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