Air New Zealand and pilots are calling for a crackdown against rogue drone operators following another scare at Auckland Airport.

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New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association president Tim Robinson said it was a matter of when, not if there would be a potentially deadly collision.

''The energy involved in that collision is huge - if it went into an engine it would take out an engine. If it went into a wing or a fuel tank it would pierce the skin and heaven forbid through the flight deck window.''


Air New Zealand put two flights on hold for around 10 minutes last night after reports of a drone sighting near the airport, worrying Robinson who says this is where flying is in its most critical stage.

''The auto pilot is disconnected, you're hand-flying so there is a lot of risk. There is no way you can take evasive action.''

The consequences of a bird strike were well known and a drone collision would be worse given they can weigh up to 25kg with solid components and batteries.

''Birds are flesh and blood and mainly water and you've seen the damage they can do when they strike at velocity.''

The association wants compulsory registration of drones weighing more than 220gms while Air New Zealand is calling for a crackdown.

''Incidents such as these support Air New Zealand's well documented view that there needs to be tougher and more consistent penalties for those who breach the rules around the use of drones,'' an airline spokeswoman said.

Associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter said she was ''deeply concerned'' that some people were not complying with the law.

The Ministry of Transport was looking at potential changes to drone regulations, in response to the sharp growth in drone numbers, technological advances and new types of operations.


''We need our regulations to keep up so we can maximise the benefits of drones, while managing the associated risks (and perceived risks),'' she said.

During the five years to March last year the Civil Aviation Authority received 696 complaints about drones. Last February a Chilean tourist was convicted after operating a drone that endangered fire-fighting helicopters near Lake Wanaka.

The CAA today said it had not made a decision on whether to investigate last night's sighting but was calling for anyone who had seen it to come forward.''If you saw where the drone was coming from, where it was heading to, or if you have any details about who was flying it, please either call the Police or call the CAA on 0508 472 338,'' a spokeswoman said.

Robinson said a drone incident that caused chaos at Gatwick Airport in London before Christmas showed how disruptive rogue operators, or those with malicious motives could be. This week Newark Airport was also shut down because of a done sighting.

''One of the real concerning things is that you're starting to see them being used maliciously - I don't think the politicians before Gatwick really considered them being used in this way. Who is to say next Christmas one doesn't park itself over Auckland Airport or Heathrow?''

Last year a drone came close to an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 from Tokyo. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Last year a drone came close to an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 from Tokyo. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The CAA spokeswoman said the Ministry of Transport was working on changes to the rules to ensure they keep up with technology so NZ can maximise the benefits of advanced drones, used for commercial purposes, while managing the risks associated with smaller drones used primarily for recreational purposes.

This included looking at other countries' approaches that could influence possible regulatory changes, including the European regulations, to assess what might be relevant and appropriate for New Zealand.

The authority believed educating people about how to fly drones safely was crucial and this was a key focus for CAA.

Robinson said compulsory registration would enable educational material to be sent directly to operators.

He said enforcement was difficult because ''you have to catch the buggers first.''
Technical advances would help authorities battle drones. This included electronic identification fitted to them, geo-fencing for GPS equipped drones to keep them out of restricted areas and anti-collision technology.

''Technology will solve a lot of the problems but it will be moving feast of how many drones have this technology, how you mandate it,'' said Robinson.

Auckland Airport is working with Airways on drone detection trials.

Two systems are now being trialled. Both are radar based systems capable of detecting drones at varying distances from 5km to 10km around the airport and up to 15,000ft (4500m). The detection area covers the eastern approach into Auckland.

While not live, the data gathered is being recorded and assessed to give a comparison of the capabilities of the systems.

The trials are due to finish in June.