In short:

Benjamin Thomas Cairns pleaded guilty to seven charges related to operating a drone illegally.

He could be seen on vision found on the drone after it was seized during a drug investigation.

What’s next?

Cairns is expected to be released from jail later this year.

A convicted drug trafficker has been fined $6,500 for using a drone too close to people and at night.

Benjamin Thomas Cairns, 29, pleaded guilty to seven drone-related offences in the Mount Gambier Magistrates Court on Thursday.

He is already serving at least two years in jail for drug trafficking after being sentenced in June last year.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions told the court that Cairns flew the drone over Conroe Heights, Mount Gambier on January 12, 17 and 19, 2022.

The drone was seized in February 2022 as part of an investigation that led to the drug charges.

Ben Cairns in a photo released by SA police.(Supplied: SA Police)

But the prosecutor said there was no evidence the drone was used for drug dealing.

“I understand that inference can be drawn, your honour, and I think that’s a very reasonable inference, but we have not provided any evidence to state that in our submissions,” the prosecutor said.

He said only 11 similar cases had been prosecuted by the Commonwealth since 2020.

Most other drone-related offences reported in the media resulted in fines of less than $1,000, but in 2019, a NSW man was fined $7,750 for a similar offence after initially refusing to pay a much smaller aviation infringement notice issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Drone seen near people

The court was told Cairns could be seen in various videos found on a memory card in the drone.

He was charged with three counts of using a model aircraft less than 30 metres from a person and three counts of using a model aircraft over a populous area.

Each offence carries a maximum penalty of $11,100.

Cairns was also accused of one count of using an unmanned aircraft at night without a permit, which attracts a fine of up to $5,550.

The prosecutor said the videos showed the drone flying over houses, roads and vehicles, and coming close to four people, including a pedestrian who was briefly followed.

Cairns told the court his mother had bought the drone for him from Harvey Norman and he was unaware of the rules around using it.

But he said he now realised he had broken the law and regretted his actions.

Hope to deter others

Magistrate Koula Kossiavelos fined Cairns $1,000 for each of the daytime offences and $500 for flying the drone at night.

“I’m sure Mr Cairns that you’ve learnt from this and it’s not going to happen again,” she said.

Mount Gambier is South Australia’s second largest city.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

She hoped the fine would deter others from using drones without first checking the relevant laws.

“Drones are prolific in our community and the community must understand that when purchasing a drone, there are regulations and safety issues that need to be known,” she said.

“The aircraft cannot be simply taken out of its package and operated by an individual without regulations being adhered to and complied with, because the effect to the community can end up causing harm and damage from such aircraft.”

Cairns’ non-parole period is expected to end later this year.

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