Drones save time and money

Article image - Drones save time and money East Gippsland Shire Council’s qualified drone pilots Simone Spykers, Byron Edmonds and Andrew Thompson.

A new initiative that will reduce costs and improve efficiencies at East Gippsland Shire Council has got off the ground – literally.

Following recent approval of policy and procedural documents, staff members at the Victorian council are now able to use drone technology to undertake tasks that were previously labour-intensive, high risk to officer safety or required outsourcing to contractors.

East Gippsland Shire Council is the first council in Victoria, and one of the first in Australia, to implement a policy for the use of drones.

Drones will be used for a variety of tasks, including land surveys, building surveys, inspections of assets such as trees and bridges, weed infestations, natural disaster evaluations, and even video footage to promote tourism.

East Gippsland Shire Council Mayor Joe Rettino said drone technology offers real benefits.

“I’m proud that East Gippsland has been able to lead the way on the use of this technology in the local government sector.

“We have already had a lot of interest about this initiative from councils and government agencies in Victoria and interstate.

“We will now be able to undertake some inspections ourselves where we’d previously engage an external contractor.

“For example, when inspecting trees that are taller than our equipment.”

Shire Chief Executive Officer Gary Gaffney said the rules governing drone use are extensive to protect the safety and privacy of the public.

“The community can be assured council will not use the drone to fly over private property without warning.

“Aviation guidelines also prevent drone use in populous areas - such as sports courts when matches are underway.”

One of the first tasks where the drone will be used is an inspection of native vegetation at Lake Tyers Beach.

Aerial photography will be captured allowing officers to monitor vegetation growth along the foreshore reserve over a number of years.

As the drone will be used in a commercial setting, three council staff were required to undertake a five-day training course approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in order to qualify as pilots.

The course covered air legislation, drone technology, aircraft systems, radio certification, navigation, weather and human factors that can influence a drone flight.

The pilots also had to fly various circuits to show they had complete control of the drone.

A risk assessment will be undertaken before each flight and the shire will do ad hoc media to advise people when a drone may be in their area.

If a property will be directly affected by a drone flight, residents will be notified.

The intended use of drones is not to capture private images, which will be deleted.

All images collected will be managed in accordance with council’s Information Privacy Policy and all applicable privacy legislation.