The operator of a mystery drone that flew above Waipukurau's main street last month says he was operating it legally, despite a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) claim that he broke multiple rules - highlighting the confusion that surrounds the technology.
Napier-based photographer Tony Speakman was at the controls of the drone that appeared over the CHB town on June 8, filming the former National Bank on the corner of Ruataniwha St and Northumberland St for Harcourts Real Estate.
The flight was within a 4km radius of the Waipukurau aerodrome and was performed without contacting the aerodrome operator and without gaining the permission of the nearby property owners or the people on the main street.
Mr Speakman said that in terms of the aerodrome's airspace the fact he was within 120m of high buildings, where there was no other air traffic, meant this was not an issue.
As for getting permission from property owners or the people he flew over, he said in this situation it was highly impractical.
"It's my understanding that there is no legal requirement to get permission although sometimes it would be advisable, usually in residential areas," he said.
"There is a lot of fear-mongering about privacy - they [drones] have a wide-angle lens, they are not going to see much."
He said his operation came under Part 101 rules that apply to equipment of 25kg and under, designed to ensure the safety of people, property or other airspace users.
In addition, he was close to obtaining Part 102 certification (weighing more than 25kg) where applicants undergo stringent risk assessment testing, and as such he was aware of the dangers and could assure authorities that he took no unnecessary risks.
CAA senior technical specialist of unmanned aircraft and recreational aviation Mark Houston said that as Mr Speakman was not yet Part 102 certified he was required to operate under Part 101, and for this the CAA could not condone overflying the machine on the main street of Waipukurau, which had the potential to create major hazards to people and property.
"I would suggest that if he was close to obtaining 102 he would know all these requirements, as well as the requirements for operating in a shielded environment within 100m laterally and not above the highest object being used as a shield," Mr Houston said. In terms of getting permission from the property owners and people he was flying over, Mr Speakman said it was difficult to get the consents.
"He is wrong, however, to suggest it is not a legal requirement," said Mr Houston.
"It is an integral part of the Part 101 rule that he should be operating to.
"This is where Part 102 comes in. With this we can grant an operator variance to Part 101 because they have completed an extensive application, including assessment of company procedures and personnel as well as extensive risk mitigation training among other requirements."
Mr Houston said real estate companies around the country were increasingly employing non-certificated operators for marketing properties.
"It may be that there is a financial consideration for this, but the evidence we are seeing of operational concerns is creating an alarming risk for the entire [drone] industry."
He said the case in Waipukurau was regrettable and reinforced the public view of drones as toys creating a nuisance.
To avoid any confusion, drone operators should check before they fly by visiting www.airshare.co.nz.