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Can You Fly a Drone in Queensland National Parks?

The Australian state of Queensland includes a series of national parks, with more than 100 in all.

The parks run the gamut, offering forested views, stunning waterfalls, coastal cliffsides, beaches, and dusty trails.

Can you fly your drone in a Queensland National Park?

You can fly a drone in Queensland national parks, but you must follow Civil Aviation Safety Authority guidelines. Moreso, the parks have their own rules. For example, you might require a permit and cannot use your drone around wildlife.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about drone use in Queensland National Parks, including CASA’s rules and the Department of Environment and Science’s guidelines. 

Let’s get started!

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What are Queensland national parks?

Queensland has no shortage of national parks, with hundreds on the menu, so to speak. We won’t list them all here, but here’s a selection of the better-known national parks.

  • Orpheus Island National Park in Townsville
  • Oyala Thumotang National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Hope Islands National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Chillagoe – Mungana Caves National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Errk Oykangand National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Kroombit Tops National Park in Outback Queensland
  • Jardine River National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Green Island National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Lizard Island National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Lakefield National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Mount Barney National Park in Brisbane
  • Tamborine National Park in Brisbane
  • Paluma Range National Park in Townsville
  • Wooroonooran National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Diamantina National Park in Outback Queensland
  • Whitsunday Islands National Park in Whitsundays
  • Main Range National Park in Southern Queensland Country
  • Munga-Thirri National Park in Outback Queensland
  • Barron Gorge National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Girringun National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Fitzroy Island National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Hinchinbrook Island National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Carnarvon National Park in Outback Queensland
  • Undara Volcanic National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Bunya Mountains National Park in Southern Queensland Country
  • Boodjamulla National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Great Sandy National Park on the Fraser Coast
  • Daintree National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Lamington National Park in Brisbane
  • Springbrook National Park in Brisbane
  • Noosa National Park on the Sunshine Coast
  • Three Islands Group National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk on the Sunshine Coast
  • Currawinya National Park in Outback Queensland
  • Denham Group National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Gheebulum Kunungai (Moreton Island) National Park and Moreton Island Recreation Area in Brisbane
  • Turtle Group National Park in Tropical North Queensland
  • Good Night Scrub National Park in Bundaberg
  • Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island National Park in Tropical North Queensland
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Can you fly your drone in Queensland national parks?

The Department of Environment and Science, which is part of the Queensland government, oversees all the national parks in this Australian state.

Despite that the organization states that “Flying drones in Queensland’s parks and forests can affect visitors’ experience and privacy, disturb wildlife, particularly birds, and impact First Nations peoples’ cultural heritage,”[1] the Department of Environment and Science permits drone usage at Queensland national parks.

You’re required to follow CASA and Department of Environment and Science drone usage rules when operating a drone in any of the national parks.

Drone rules to know when operating in a Queensland national park

For the rest of this article, let’s review drone usage laws in Queensland national parks. 

You may need a permit

Depending on the type of drone you’ll fly and the extent of your operations, you may have to go through the Queensland government to obtain a permit. The permit would allow you to operate your drone in a forest or park.

So what are the criteria that determine whether you need a permit?

If your drone exceeds two kilograms or 4.41 pounds, you might need a permit. That’s also true if you’re using a drone for research or commercial purposes.

A Commercial Activity Permit[2] allows you to fundraise or conduct business in a protected area such as a Queensland national park. CAPs last for longer than 24 hours.

Their shortest duration is three months, but you can also apply for a permit lasting for one to three years.

To apply for a CAP, you must fill out forms and send them to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services and Partnerships. You should include the required fee with your application.

The non-refundable cost of your application fee is $374.40 AUS. If you need to renew your CAP, you’ll pay $186.90 AUS.

You’re also on the hook for permitting fees. If your CAP lasts three months, you’ll pay $74.95 AUS in permitting fees, but for longer-term CAPs lasting over a year, the fee is $299.10 AUS.

If your CAP lasts two years, you’ll pay $599 AUS, and for more than three years, $846 AUS.

You must also have $20 million in public liability insurance and current workers’ compensation insurance. The QPWS&P may require further indemnity and insurance depending on your proposed activity.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Exmouth (Australia)?

Know your altitude limit

Not all Queensland national parks require you to fly at the same altitude. Some restrict you to 450 meters or 1,500 feet “to protect the natural and cultural values of these areas.”

Recreational and commercial pilots alike must abide by this rule no matter what type of drone they’re flying or how much it weighs.

Here are the parks with the altitude limit:

  • Hinchinbrook Island National Park
  • Currawinya National Park
  • Certain areas of Carnarvon National Park

Parts of Capricornia Cays National Park, including the following:

  • Wilson Island
  • Tyron Island
  • North West Island
  • Masthead Island
  • Lady Musgrave Island
  • Heron Island
  • Erskine Island
  • Wreck Island
  • West Hoskyn Island
  • West Fairfax Island
  • East Hoskyn Island
  • East Fairfax Island

Keep your distance from marine mammals

According to the Nature Conservation (Animals) Regulation 2020, you’re prohibited from getting nearer than 100 meters of a marine mammal like a dolphin or whale with your drone.

Do not directly approach wildlife

Although there are no distance limits for non-marine mammals, the Department of Environment and Science strongly encourages drone pilots to keep a reasonable distance from all wildlife.

According to the organization:

“Direct approaches may mimic the movements of a predator and disturb wildlife. Scientific research has shown that drones can increase stress levels of many animal species, especially nesting or breeding animals such as birds.”

Do not interrupt emergency response operations

Any form of emergency response that may occur at a Queensland national park must not have drones in the vicinity.

You can prevent flying aircraft from getting where it needs to go, thus impeding life-saving services like police or fire departments from doing their jobs.

Do not fly your drone higher than 400 feet

For all other Queensland national parks besides those mentioned earlier, your altitude limit is 120 meters or 400 feet over the ground.

You must always have your drone in your visual line of sight

CASA rules mandate that you always have eyes on your drone when operating it. If you can’t see your drone through your naked eye or when wearing glasses or contacts, it’s outside of your sight line.  

You cannot fly your drone in inclement weather or at night

You’re also prohibited from using your drone after daylight hours according to CASA. In any inclement weather, do not operate your drone.

Conclusion

Queensland, Australia has a robust national parks system. Drones can fly across the many parks, but you must follow more than CASA’s rules but those established by the Department of Environment and Science as well.

Commercial pilots will likely need a drone permit and liability insurance. You should never disrupt wildlife, natural and manmade park features, and park visitors with your drone when you visit any Queensland national park.

References:
1. DES Queensland (link)
2. Commercial Activity Permits, Queensland (link)