A survey of New Zealand drone users has revealed how those who use them for business make their money and most operators believe there should be some form of mandatory training.

Respondents appeared to be less concerned about abiding by privacy regulations, with less than half saying they always ensure they have all the necessary land owner approvals for a flight.

Drone use is growing rapidly in New Zealand and an online survey by Airways invited 7000 operators on its Airshare database to participate, receiving1442 responses.

Of those 60 per cent were recreational operators flying as a hobby or for fun, with the remainder commercial operators flying for a business purpose.


Of commercial operators close to 80 per cent used them for photography and filming. Real estate (39.86 per cent) and construction (37.57 per cent ) were the two sectors operators most commonly provided services to.

The average turnover for drone activities was $108,000 a year, although there was a big range - from $1000 up to $1 million.

Of commercial operators, 70 per cent of businesses and organisations were expecting their drone use or demand for services to increase over the next year and 53 per cent of respondents expected their drone related turnover to increase next year, by an average of 38 per cent or $20,000 a year.

Photography-filmography (61 per cent) and survey/inspection work (46 per cent) were the industries that businesses and organisations believed they were most likely to expand into.

On average, businesses and organisations had four staff involved in drone activity.

One third of businesses and organisations were expecting to hire more staff over the next year. The average number of new staff hired was four.

Of the respondents 36 per cent expected their drone related research and development to increase next year, by an average of 44 per cent or $12,000.

While New Zealand firms were optimistic about revenue from drone operations, Bloomberg reported that in the United States returns had plummeted amid a flood of competition equipped with cheap high-tech aircraft that practically flew themselves.


One operator charged US$2000 a day ($2900) in 2015 taking photographs along the US East Coast with a drone he made himself but now that same work fetched about US$175.

In Airways' drone tracker survey 95 per cent of recreational respondents were male who spend between $1000 and $2000 on their machines. Most flew at home in their backyards or at beaches and parks.

It showed commercial operators had a greater level of ease in interpreting rules, while recreational operators were more likely to say rules were difficult or very difficult to understand.

Airways' head of strategy Trent Fulcher said there were between 70 to 80 notified flights a week - mainly from commercial operators.

He said that ''worryingly'' of all drone flights there was one incursion a week on average into restricted air space near aerodromes.

Of all operators 60 per cent reported always ensuring strict compliance with Civil Aviation rules and regulations, while 37 per cent attempted to comply where possible.

"Drone operators are telling us that there should be stricter enforcement of rules and harsher penalties for those who don't comply, freer access to airspace and simpler process for gaining land owner approval," Fulcher said.

"They are also becoming impatient with restrictions on beyond visual line of sight operations. BVLOS would be a game changer for the industry, enabling activities like package deliveries and autonomous flying vehicles."

Asked whether there should be some form of mandatory training, 59 per cent agreed, with most support from commercial operators.

Asked what safety features were used, 41 per cent used ''return to home'' functions and 27 per cent used visual spotters for aircraft and other hazards. Four per cent of recreational users had no safety features.

Fulcher said all users wanted fewer layers in the approval process. Operators needed four levels of approval to fly over private land.

Airways is about to start a trial of drone detection radar at Auckland Airport which was capable of determining whether an object was a drone or a bird.

Airways is working towards a nationwide drone traffic management system. A trial of the AirMap drone traffic management platform earlier this year was the first step in this development.