Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly referred to as “drones”, are becoming more readily available and affordable.
The vast majority of privately owned UAVs are used by hobbyists for taking aerial photographs and videos, or are flown just for fun. Multi-rotor UAVs have also found many applications from photographing real estate to scientific research and monitoring of agriculture.
Unfortunately, there are increasing numbers of reports from around the world of misuse of multi-rotors. In some cases, drones have been flown close to airliners, putting at risk passengers and aircraft. Privacy issues have also arisen, with property owners raising concerns that aerial cameras have been used in peeping Tom activities.
In most countries, aviation regulations were written long before the advent of UAVs, and regulatory bodies are struggling to catch up with the new technology. UAVs have therefore been regarded as model aircraft and required to comply with the appropriate regulations – in the case of New Zealand, these are found in the Civil Aviation Authority Rules under Part 101.
The New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority has written amendments to Part 101, with changes to sub-part E coming into force on 1st August 2015.
There are 12 key things that are required under Part 101. You must—
- not operate an aircraft that is more than 25 kg and always ensure that it is safe to operate;
- at all times, take all practicable steps to minimise hazards to persons, property and other
aircraft (i.e. don’t do anything hazardous); and
- fly only in daylight; and
- give way to all manned aircraft; and
- be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (e.g., not through binoculars, a monitor, or
smartphone), to ensure separation from other aircraft (or use an observer to do this in
certain cases); and
- not fly your aircraft higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level (unless certain
conditions are met); and
- have knowledge of airspace restrictions that apply in the area you want to operate; and
- not fly closer than four kilometres from any aerodrome (unless certain conditions are
- when flying in controlled airspace, obtain an air traffic control clearance issued by
Airways Corporation of New Zealand; and
- not fly in special-use airspace without the permission of the controlling authority of the
area (e.g. military operating areas, low flying zones or restricted areas); and
- have consent from anyone you want to fly above; and
- have the consent of the property owner or person in charge of the area you want to fly
The most significant changes are key points 11 and 12, eg. not to fly in airspace above persons who have not given consent for the aircraft to operate in that airspace; and above property unless prior consent has been obtained from any persons occupying that property or the property owner. These aspects of the amendments appear to be more about privacy issues than about safety of other airspace users.
As Part 101 applies to both recreational and commercial users, a wide range of commercial activities can be conducted without any interaction with the CAA. This is in stark contrast with the approach taken by regulators overseas, where all commercial operators are required to obtain a certificate or seek permission from the regulatory authority, regardless of the risk of their operation. This approach allows lower-risk commercial operations to take place without burdensome certification requirements, as long as the operators remain compliant with the restrictions set out in Part 101.
For more information see the Civil Aviation website.