Victoria Police backflip on decision to restrict airspace over Melbourne vaccine protests
Victoria Police have scaled back an earlier request for a no-fly zone over Melbourne, which they said was requested because protesters were using the live footage to plan their rallies.
News helicopters will now be allowed to film protests in the city, but they will need to wait 60 minutes before broadcasting any footage.
Earlier on Wednesday, police were granted a no-fly zone over central Melbourne, as protests over mandatory vaccinations raged on.
Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Guenther said live footage had been impairing the safety of officers.
“I supported the request because what was happening was that the live news footage from the helicopters was being used by the protesters to identify where we were and what our tactics were at different locations,” he told reporters on Wednesday night.
“Having said that, we reviewed that later this afternoon, recognising that it is important for the media to get their pictures in these situations.”
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) agreed to the request on Wednesday morning.
It meant low-flying aircraft such as helicopters wouldn’t have been allowed to fly over central Melbourne until Sunday morning.
Police acknowledged there were concerns the media would not be able to cover the protests from the air, but “alternate options” were being explored.
The application was made in the interest of public safety, a police spokeswoman said.
“Victoria Police made an application to CASA for restricted air space in the Melbourne CBD, due to operational and safety reasons in relation to the protest activity,” she said.
“We understand the concerns from the media about this decision.”
A spokesman for CASA, a federal government body, said it wasn’t unusual for agencies to apply for temporary restricted airspace as part of a response to an emergency or in the course of planning for a major event.
“Police are using their aircraft in that space at the moment, in relation to the demonstration, and because the demonstration is unpredictable in nature, they can’t predict where their helicopters will have to operate,” the spokesman said.
“To manage air traffic safely it was deemed better to keep other aircraft out.”
The ban applies across a zone three nautical miles wide, centred over the Melbourne CBD, and up to 2500 feet in the air.
A CASA memo indicated the restrictions came into effect on Wednesday morning at 5.16am and would last until Sunday at 9am.
Until then, whoever wants to fly in the restricted zone will have to ask Victoria Police for permission.
The Victorian government handballed questions about the flight ban to federal authorities.
Originally published as Victoria Police backflip on decision to restrict airspace over Melbourne vaccine protests
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