Ministry of Transport looking at management of drone use, regulatory changes possible

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(From New Zealand Herald 27 March 2018)

The Ministry of Transport is looking at whether regulatory changes are necessary to better manage operators and prevent reckless drone usage.

The news follows calls for tougher rules for operators following a near-miss at Auckland Airport on the weekend, involving a flight with 278 people on board.

NZ92 from Tokyo was coming in to land at Auckland when it encountered a drone estimated to be just five metres away from the 777-200 aircraft on Sunday.

Air New Zealand has slammed the incident as “reckless” and said it had the potential to endanger passenger safety.

It wasn’t the first incident of its kind, either.

“Flight operations at Auckland Airport halted for 30 minutes on 6 March when an Air New Zealand pilot reported a drone within controlled airspace,” Air NZ said.

Air New Zealand chief operations and integrity standards officer Captain David Morgan said serious drone incidents were on the rise – and policymakers need to take action and introduce stronger penalties for irresponsible operators.

“NZ92 was just metres away from a serious incident on Sunday,” he said.

“The pilots spotted the drone at a point in the descent where it was not possible to take evasive action.

“It passed so close to the incoming aircraft that they were concerned it may have been ingested into the engine.”

Morgan said it was clear the “time had come” for tougher deterrents regarding reckless drone use around airports.

Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter echoed Morgan’s concern regarding the incident, calling it “both illegal and incredibly stupid”.

“I take the concerns raised by Air New Zealand very seriously,” she said.

“I understand that both Police and the Civil Aviation Authority are looking at how they can apply a broad range of offences to address both safety and privacy issues around drones. I have asked for an update on this work.”

Genter said the Ministry of Transport was also undertaking a longer-term piece of work that would consider how it managed the risks and benefits of unmanned aircraft.

That would include looking at whether regulatory changes were necessary.

The airline’s call for action follows near figures that show that the huge growth in the use of drones in the past five years has seen a marked rise in complaints to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

But enforcement action is yet to take off, with only about 4 per cent of complaints resulting in disciplinary measures.

Data provided under the Official Information Act by the CAA to the Herald shows a total of 696 complaints against Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) have been made since March 2013, but only 27 of those have resulted in enforcement action.

Hobby and commercial drones exploded in popularity around 2014 and have become more popular as their prices become cheaper, their technology improves and they become ever more accessible.