Drone Noise: The Regulations are Buzzing…

Published: 6 September 2021


In June 2019, the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, which we will just call “the Department” undertook a review of the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018, which we will call “the Regulations”, to determine the appropriate scope of future noise regulation for drones and other specialised aircraft operations.

In August 2021, the Department released a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for proposed reform to Remotely Piloted Aircraft and electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft noise regulations, which we will just call “the RIS”.

The entire 33-page article is available here. If you are interested, but not 33-pages interested, below is the need-to-know summary.

What does the RIS do?

The RIS aims to reach an interim solution for drone and eVTOL noise regulation in Australia.

Current state of play on drone noise

Under the Regulations, noise impacts from drones and other emerging aviation technologies are treated under the same framework as traditional aircraft noise. There are no specific standards or noise accreditation procedures for drones in the Regulations. Currently, drone noise is being managed under section 17 of the Regulations which provides approval for aircraft to which no standards apply.

The current Regulations do not adequately account for new aviation technology such as drones and eVTOL aircraft.

In fact, the majority of commercial drone operators are operating illegally. This is because the Regulations provide that certain aircraft must hold either a noise certificate or an approval to operate without a noise certificate. Under the Regulations, drones are classified as ‘aircraft’. As a result, the majority of drone operators are operating without a noise certificate or a section 17 approval, and are therefore noncompliant with the Regulations. Insurers nightmare or insurers playground?

Problems identified with the current regime

Besides the glaring problem around the potential illegality, the RIS identified 6 problems with the current regime as follows:

Problem 1: Current regulations are not fit for purpose. They were designed for traditional aircraft and focus on managing noise impacts around aerodromes.

Problem 2: Inconsistent current legislation and regulation. There are various pieces of Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation and regulations covering aviation noise.

Problem 3: Community acceptance of drone and eVTOL operations.

Problem 4: Ground based impact of drones and eVTOL aircraft noise. Traditional aerodrome-centric and flight path design noise management does not suit drones and eVTOL.

Problem 5: Measurement of drone and eVTOL aircraft noise. Most drones currently in use emit less noise (typically between 55dB and 69dB) than most other aircraft (typically between 65dB and 95dB) or road vehicles, however they emit an atypical noise at an uncommon frequency.

Problem 6:  Complaints Management/Enforcement.    

Options for an interim noise framework

This RIS considers four options for an interim drone noise framework:

Option 1: No change to the Regulations. This does not address the problems identified and would continue the requirement for a noise certificate or an approval to operate without a certificate for certain drone operators. This means most drone operators, would need to apply for an approval to operate without a noise certification. The Department would need to take steps to increase compliance and if necessary introduce enforcement measures.

Option 2:  Deregulation of the drone industry – exclusion of drones and eVTOL aircraft from the Regulations. This would remove all requirements around noise certification. This is likely to create the potential for irresponsible operators to enter the market, without regard for their noise impact. Also, the lack of appropriate regulatory oversight may discourage international investment and would lead to inconsistent treatment compared to traditional aviation.

Option 3: Reform the Regulations – to include flexible and fit-for-purpose drone and eVTOL requirements. Amendments would remove requirements for approvals for drone and eVTOL operations unlikely to have a significant noise impact on the community.

Option 4: Establish classifications under the Regulations – establish a benchmarking tool for all drones and eVTOL aircraft. However, once a limit is set, the incentive for companies to keep innovating to reduce the noise emissions from their aircraft is removed.

The option preferred by the Department

The Department prefers option 3 (reform the Regulations) which it states would ensure an approach to noise regulation that is sustainable for operators, facilitates innovation in the industry, balances community expectations and enables growth in the industry.

Next steps: have your say!

The Australian Government is inviting written submissions on any aspect of the options proposed within the RIS. The deadline is 4 October 2021, and is to be addressed to:

Director, National Emerging Aviation Technologies Policy

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications


The Department has provided some guidance by posing some questions, answers to which could form your submission, these are:

  • Which option best aligns with the direction of your business/organisation or personal interests?
  • Are there any other options that could benefit the emerging aviation technology sector?
  • What level of regulation do you expect from the Government?
  • What are your expectations about the extent of the Government’s role and responsibilities in the management of drone and eVTOL aircraft noise?
  • How important is compliance with regulations to you?
  • Would any of the options be unachievable, place an unreasonable burden on your business/organisation or result in you leaving the industry?
  • What benefits/opportunities do new aviation technologies offer for Australia?
  • What role does appropriate regulation play in Australia’s ability to realise these opportunities?
  • To what extent should Australia seek to harmonise our approach to noise regulation with international approaches?
  • Are there other issues that the Australian Government should consider?

Again, here’s a link to the RIS if you want to check it out in its entirety.

Fly Free!

The Drone Lawyer

6 September 2021