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Get to the Drone! Landing Pads in Hotels of the Future

Development in the Greater Sydney Area is undergoing a transition in both technical capability and lifestyle options being offered to its residents.

A new wave of sustainability goals in buildings[1], including eco-friendly design goals and certification regimes[2] has broadened the scope of new builds. One feature that is increasing in popularity is the incorporation of commercial delivery services, such as a hotbox or chiller fridge in apartment buildings to accommodate grocery and takeaway delivery.

The next level of this concept is drone delivery. This is an idea currently being proposed by Phoenix Builders at 55 Aird Street next to Westfield Parramatta.

But what is drone delivery? Is it safe? Will it make our lives easier?

In our previous blog here, we covered the emerging industry of drone delivery products. As outlined in the article, companies such as Guzman y Gomez and Chemists Warehouse are pioneering the delivery space in Australia in conjunction with Wing Aviation. As these commercial services begin to emerge, urban development projects are incorporating the same elements into the design process, balanced by appropriate standards and regulations.

The Future of Delivery Services

One thing that has become abundantly apparent during Covid-19 is that online delivery services are becoming an essential element of our daily lifestyle. From takeaway food, to clothing and other products, we are prepared to pay a premium for quick and efficient delivery.

Wing Aviation’s most recent expansion in southeast Queensland, according to a report by Australian Aviation, has offered assistance by delivering over 1000 items during a recent state-wide lockdown in the state.[3] The company is now considering a move to collect packages directly from shops, rather than requiring retailers who use their service to ‘co-locate’ to Wing’s distribution centres.

Certainly, coffee and burritos are one thing – but allowing pharmaceutical products and other essential items to become accessible to vulnerable or disadvantaged people in the community could lay the platform for commercial drone services to be compatible with new residential developments.

Regulations around Drones in NSW

Whilst the Wing trial is currently limited to ACT and Queensland, the regulations imposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) provide a roadmap for how drones services may be integrated into urban development.

As part of the Wing operation, each pilot was required by CASA to hold a remote pilot licence, and the drones themselves were subject to an assessment under the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018.[4] As a result, and to reduce the environmental impact of drone noise, the service was only approved to operate in certain hours of the day, such as in Gungahlin ACT where flights were allowed between 7.30am to 7pm on weekdays.

Alongside Wing’s pioneering trial, CASA is also being proactive by engaging stakeholders in the emerging industry. As part of CASA’s ‘drone safety advocates’ initiative, drone retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers are given the opportunity to engage in the discussion around drone safety in future urban uses and in return will be labelled as a responsible retailer.[5] This may assist in standardising drone models for commercial use that will comply mechanically with certain noise regulations as part of delivery services.

Planning and local government administration are also being actively shaped in conjunction with CASA to strike the balance between drone use and public domain spaces.[6] In national parks, playgrounds or populous areas, a ‘Caution: drone rules apply’ signage can be applied to communicate to drone users that relevant local laws apply to the fly zone. Another national standardised drone safety signage is a ‘No drone zone’ sign, which can only be currently applied within 5.5 km (3 NM) of the movement area of a controlled airport and in the approach and departure paths.

Drones and Development

The ‘drone-pad’ proposed by Phoenix Builders next to Westfield Parramatta is an example of a pioneering development that will push the boundaries of technology use in an urban environment. The NSW Government opted to endorse the 18-storey development at 55 Aird Street in Parramatta as part of its fast-track program in September 2020, perhaps signalling that ‘drone-pads’ may become a norm of the future accommodation industry.[7]

As part of the Development Application at 55 Aird Street, the Statement of Environmental Effects prepared by Think Planners stated that the design panel were supportive of allocating areas of the build to ‘future proof the development for facilities such as a drone landing pad’. The ‘drone-pad’ was also featured in the ecologically sustainable design report (as shown at the bottom of the image below).

Whilst the Development Application for 55 Aird Street was lodged with Council on 2 August 2021, the Council Assessment Report following the notification and exhibition period will be telling for how the intended regulation of the ‘drone-pad’ will proceed. For its part, the City of Paramatta Council do not currently have a policy for drones that could regulate the proposed use of delivery drones at 55 Aird Street. Similarly, the Plan of Management prepared by ValueSuites does not consider the commercial operation and regulation of a drone service to the 55 Aird Street development. Given the experience of Wing in the ACT and Queensland, it would be guaranteed that any commercial delivery service would be subject to certification by CASA and compliance under Federal and State legislation.

Across Sydney, Councils are beginning to publish factsheets to assist drone users to understand their rights and restrictions upon activity. For example, Campbelltown City Council provides guidelines largely adopted from CASA’s guidance, which include a flight height limit of 120m and a requirement of 30m flight proximity from other people. However, the only guidance for potential delivery businesses such as Wing states that if you fly a drone for a commercial purposes there ‘are extra rules you must follow’.[8]

The drone space is evolving, and the dynamic commercial environment for delivery services will require greater synthesis with local planning goals and drone-related legislation. Avlaw is committed to engaging with community and industry stakeholders in the drone industry, backed by a wealth of experience in the Australian aviation space.