SAFETY CONCERN: Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service in a low rescue at Granite Bay last year.
SAFETY CONCERN: Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service in a low rescue at Granite Bay last year. contributed

Pilots warned after drone almost hits rescue helicopter

ONE drone in Noosa has already come too close for comfort to the Westpac Surf Lifesaving Rescue Helicopter and now the Civil Aviation Safety Authority is worried that many more may be about to take to the sky.

CASA's Peter Gibson warned that thousands of new drone pilot,s who will launch their Christmas presents, need to follow mandatory safety rules at all times or face hefty fines.

"CASA wants people to have fun flying their drone but we need the fun to be safe," Mr Gibson said.

"Uncrowded parks, spaces with no people around or a secluded beach are great places to fly your drone."

He said crowded holiday beaches in Noosa were unsuitable for these flights and, if drone flyers saw a low-flying aircraft, they must ground their drones immediately

"There are too many people and too many risks of having an accident and causing injury or damage to property," Mr Gibson said.

"Drone flyers must not cause a hazard to people, property or aircraft at any time.

"There are penalties for breaking the drone rules, with fines of up to $9000."

Drone flyers must stay more than 30m away from other people, never fly around crowds or groups of people and keep their drone in sight at all times.

Mr Gibson said drones were a very popular Christmas present and were more fun to fly than ever before.

Westpac rescue chief pilot Paul Gibson told ABC radio recently of a close call between a patrolling chopper at Noosa.

He said the chopper crew's eyes were usually on the water and not on the look-out for drones, which could be hard to spot from the air.

"It is increasingly becoming a big safety issue, not only for us but other rescue services as well - police helicopters, other emergency helicopters and even commercial operators at times fly low level photography work.

"The rules currently allow drones to fly up to 400ft above ground.

He said the rescue chopper was regularly flying below 60m on beach patrols

"So we are in potential conflict ... in the past three months, we've had two instances of near misses with drones," Mr Gibson said.

He said one was at Noosa and the other at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.

This was how the Sunshine Coast Daily reported the near miss off Noosa First Point:

"About 11.35am on a Sunday the chopper had been flying 100-150m off the coast at a height of about 200ft (about 60m) when a drone being flown off First Point passed within 30m of the helicopter.

"Rescue crew said a drone strike in the helicopter had the potential to cause serious damage and even bring down the aircraft."