Drone Flyer Diary – Craig Garth

Farewell voyage of the icebreaker Aurora Australis from Hobart.
Farewell voyage of the icebreaker Aurora Australis from Hobart.

Flying high for local government

In this edition of Drone Flyer Diaries, we talk to Tasmanian drone pilot Craig Garth about finding his professional wings at the City of Hobart.

Since starting in the role as City of Hobart’s chief remote pilot 5 years ago, Craig Garth has had a bird’s-eye view of how drones are changing the way local governments do business, for the better.

As a remote pilot licence (RePL) holder, operating under the Hobart City Council’s remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate (ReOC), Craig can fly in special conditions, including by night, which is not permitted by recreational drone flyers without CASA approval.

‘We started out using drones for capturing images and digital media,’ he says. ‘That’s evolved into using drones to conduct inspections, assist with local mapping and town planning, as well as live-stream council events like fireworks displays.

‘The live-streaming of events has been especially beneficial in overcoming challenges associated with COVID restrictions, as it’s allowed people to enjoy fireworks and other local celebrations without having to leave home.’

Craig Garth flying the Matrice 300 RTK at the Hobart Cenotaph
Craig Garth flying the Matrice 300 RTK at the Hobart Cenotaph

From a safety perspective, the use of drones has also reduced the risks involved in conducting inspections in hard-to-reach places.

‘So before, there was a lot involved in getting someone up to look at a gutter on a roof. Now, this is a lot quicker,’ Craig says. ‘You just put up a drone and get high-resolution images. We then send those out to contractors and they can give us an accurate quote on what needs to be done. It’s definitely changed things. I mean, what we’ve got now is an eye in the sky which gives a point of view which we never had standing on the ground.’

Having an eye in the sky has also proven helpful in conveying updates to the local community from areas that have been cordoned off for safety reasons.

‘When a local mountain was closed off recently due to heavy snow on the roads, I posted drone footage to the Council Facebook page to show the local community what Council was doing to remove snow from the local roads. That’s one of our most-watched videos! People were genuinely interested in seeing how much snow had fallen and how our snowplough was being used to clear access.’

Snow clearing underway at Mount Wellington
Snow clearing at Mount Wellington

Outside work hours, Craig Garth visits local schools, such as his daughter’s, to demonstrate to children the many ways in which drones are now being used to assist with communication and information sharing.

‘I think it’s important that school children aren’t scared of drones because they’re going to be seeing more and more of them,’ he says.

‘I’ve found that one of the best ways to get messages through to children is to meet with them. I take them out to the oval and put up a drone to show them what they do and talk to them about how they can be used to help society in a whole manner of ways.’

Craig is also an active member of the Tasmanian Drone Flyers Facebook Group, which was created to provide an outlet for people wanting to share their flying experiences, exchange information and ask questions about rules and regulations.

‘I’ve built a community through just talking to people. If you’re open and willing to share, people seem to be a lot more receptive. Social media has been a big help.

‘We’ve had a huge injection of Facebook followers interested in drones this year, which probably has a lot to do with people having more downtime due to COVID and perhaps a little more cash to spend on toys.

‘My top safety tip, which I give to all new and emerging drone flyers, is to practise. Find an oval and practise as much as you can. Drones are an investment. They’re not cheap and they can be dangerous if you lose control. Don’t be afraid to learn and tackle new things. Look up YouTube for tutorials. It’s a huge repository of knowledge and information. Learn your technology!’

A panorama shot over the River Derwent
A panorama shot over the Derwent River.

And where does Craig see the future of drones?

‘Well, they’re here to stay … autonomy is going gangbusters! Drones will be commonplace when it comes to deliveries, transportation, mapping. In terms of medical transportations, I can see drones replacing helicopters for delivering blood samples, for example. It’s cheaper and more efficient.’

all images | (c) Craig Garth