Airservices Australia has taken the extraordinary step of banning model airplanes from entering Canberra airspace during next week’s planned visit of President Obama, Crikey has learned.

A radio-controlled model aircraft flyer received a document from his club released by the air traffic control body, which states that activities involving, but not excluded to, the use of gliders, hot-air balloons and model aircraft have all been prohibited from use during the President’s visit:


As a result the club has had to close its model flying field for the two days of the visit.

The restriction has been placed on 45 nautical miles (83.34 kilometres) of airspace that surround Canberra airport, an area that includes the fields of six out of the seven clubs of the ACT Aeromodellers Association (ACTAA).

Typically, model aeroplanes are put together with balsa wood and duct tape and have a wingspan of approximately two metres. The President’s Boeing VC-25, on the other hand, has a wingspan of 59.6 metres and weighs about 238,800 kilograms.

As Crikey’s resident plane expert Ben Sandilands put it “you’d do more damage with a well-fed duck”.

Even if a model aeroplane were strong enough to damage Air Force One, it would still have a difficult time catching up with it. The VC-25  lands at speeds  of about 300 kph, more than a match for the two-stroke aircraft used by the aeromodellers community.

Perhaps these guidelines are actually aimed at the serious potential for model enthusiast terrorists to send a remote-controlled plane packed with explosives to Obama’s address at Parliament. However, if one had the serious intention of sending a balsa wood bomb to the house on the hill, it would take an awfully sophisticated — and exceptionally lightweight — explosive device to be able to make it the full journey.

And therein lies the issue. Some critics say that this ban is clearly not a serious safety concern, it is simply another box to tick on the list of measures that modern day security staff rely on and that these are the kinds of over-the-top procedures that brought Sydney to a standstill during APEC.

Crikey understands there are no sanctioned ACTAA events being held during President Obama’s visit, and there would be little chance of modellers out there flying on a Thursday or Friday.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey