New rules for flying drones in New Zealand

Most drones currently fall under regulations designed for model aircraft, but are capable of flying much faster, further and higher than traditional model planes. Photo / Thinkstock
Most drones currently fall under regulations designed for model aircraft, but are capable of flying much faster, further and higher than traditional model planes. Photo / Thinkstock

New rules are being developed for flying drones in New Zealand.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is asking the public as well as industry professionals to have their say on the proposed new rules for 'unmanned aircraft operations', more commonly known as drones, or remotely piloted aircraft systems.

Most drones currently fall under regulations designed for model aircraft, but are capable of flying much faster, further and higher than traditional model planes.

Steve Moore, CAA general manager of general aviation, said the advanced performance characteristics of unmanned aircraft mean they can be used for a much wider range of applications including scientific research, film and video production and agriculture.

"This can mean greater safety risks for airspace users, and for people and property. It's important we update the rules in recognition of those risks," Mr Moore said.

"Ultimately, users will need to abide by the new rules, so it is important they get the chance to have input into their development."

There has been a significant growth in the number of drones world-wide, with unmanned aircraft available in shops or online for a few hundred dollars. The proposed new rules would integrate unmanned aircraft into the aviation system.

"It is important that we put in place a comprehensive regulatory framework that is flexible enough to accommodate further growth over the long-term," Mr Moore said.

The proposed rules focus on the safety risks associated with high performance unmanned aircraft, with operators likely to require CAA certification.

"We are aware that these operations are opening up significant business opportunities in areas like real estate, film and television, and scientific research," Mr Moore said.

"We want to make sure the new rules do not impose an undue regulatory burden on operators and will seek feedback on this and other aspects during the consultation period.

"We want to make sure that recreational users can still operate in a low-risk environment, and will modify the existing rules so they can continue to do this where appropriate."

The proposed new rules will be issued on December 4. They will be open for public feedback until January 31, and are available on: caa.govt.nz/rpas

Fact file:

• The exact number of drones in New Zealand is unknown, but is small compared to conventional aircraft.

• The Civil Aviation Authority currently receives up to 50 enquiries a week relating to unmanned aircraft, compared to around 20-30 enquiries weekly at the beginning of this year.

• There have been 15 aviation incidents involving drones reported to the CAA in 2014, compared to one incident reported in 2010, and more than the previous record of 12 incidents reported in both 2012 and 2013.

• The current rules for operating unmanned aircraft can be found at www.caa.govt.nz/rpas.

• Drone operations in breach of the Civil Aviation Rules could lead to a fine, a written warning, or prosecution by the CAA.

• Shared Skies, the first ever unmanned aircraft industry event, will be held in Masterton on January 16, 2015.

- NZME.

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