The thought of a rogue drone landing on your property out of the blue isn’t something that would ordinarily cross most people’s minds. It is however serious enough of a safety concern to prompt Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to provide guidance about the issue on its website.

The guidance has come at a time during which companies that offer drone delivery services have been rapidly expanding their global footprint. Part of that expansion includes Wing’s recent controversial Australian drone delivery trials in Bonython, ACT and its current trials in Logan, Queensland.

Wing drone | Source: TechCrunch

If you haven’t heard of Wing, it’s a subsidiary of Alphabet. Other companies in Alphabet’s stable include Google and the much lesser-known Sidewalk Labs: both are no stranger to controversy.

According to the CASA website, Wing’s delivery service will be available to “eligible homes in Crace, Franklin and Palmerston in the ACT”, and “there are plans to gradually include more suburbs across Gungahlin in the future”.

The website also lists a further 21 suburbs in Queensland. If trials go well, Wing would look to unfurl its wings more broadly across Australia. There’s also a brewing question mark from some quarters over the extent to which other drone delivery service providers can fairly access the Australian skies to compete with Wing.

Wing’s OpenSky digital platform | Source: Wing

On the specific safety issue of rogue delivery drone landings, CASA states “while an accident is unlikely to occur, Wing pilots instantly know if any of their drones operate outside a programmed flight. If this happens and it’s safer to do so, pilots may decide to land the aircraft immediately rather than continue the flight.”

Specs for the Wing drone — one notable omission is the decibel level or noise rating.
Source: Wing

CASA continues, “in the unlikely event a problem occurs, drones are designed to automatically land very slowly and are equipped with flashing strobe lights for clear visibility. Should an incident occur, Wing’s emergency response plan will dispatch a crew vehicle immediately to the landing site. If a drone lands on your property, simply leave it alone — an operator will be on the way.”

While the CASA guidance is specific to the Wing drone delivery service, it invites the question as to what to do in the event a different type of rogue drone lands (or crashes) on your property. In recent years, purchases of hobby drones and professional drones have skyrocketed, and uncontrolled landings (along with injuries) — while rare — can occur.

Tom Pils (better known as the Drone Lawyer) offers some sage advice: “if a drone causes any damage to you or your property when flying over or landing on your real estate, you may have a claim for compensation. However, if a drone simply lands on your property without causing any damage, you are generally best-off calling the police. While potentially annoying or concerning, there are serious penalties for tampering with an aircraft, and drones are a type of aircraft. As a result, your best bet is generally to leave it alone and to let the operator or police deal with it.”

The wildly popular DJI Phantom drone | Source: Unsplash

The other reason to leave rogue drones alone is to avoid serious personal injury. This is because they are likely to be capable of taking off again. Their propellers (also known as “blades”) are typically made of carbon-fibre and can spin at thousands of revolutions per minute.

The search for answers amidst global drone rollout

As the global rollout of drones — including the continued push for commercial passenger drones (flying taxis) — intensifies, people will be increasingly looking for candid answers about how drones (and particularly delivery drones) are being responsibly integrated into society. And society has every right to make these demands. These discussions will gradually help to inform the hard limits of where the boundaries should lie.

Key boundaries to be thrashed out amongst the numerous and varied stakeholders will centre around a number of key issues. These include safety, noise pollution, the notion of open (read: free) skies, privacy, security, valid drone use-cases, the environment, infrastructure and data, just to pinpoint a few.

An Embraer flying taxi prototype | Source: Uber Air

CASA was contacted for comment but has not yet responded. Wing was also contacted but a spokesperson for the company stated that Wing is “not able to collaborate on any editorial works” right now as “it’s all hands on deck to roll out the delivery programs.”

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* This article was originally published on Medium.

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