The increasing number of drones in New Zealand and growing
safety fears have prompted an urgent review of the rules on
Authorities don't know how many unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs) are in the country; the Civil Aviation Authority gets
between 10 and 20 queries a week about flying them.
Authorities and operators are working on details of new rules
they hope will be ready by the end of the year.
One operator said that without new rules it had fears for the
growth of an industry which could be worth close to US$90
billion in the next decade.
CAA's general manager of general aviation, Steve Moore, said
15 New Zealand operators were approved to fly unmanned
aircraft weighing more than 25kg.
It was the unknown number of smaller machines -- the ones
resembling multi-rotor mini helicopters -- that caused most
"The rules aren't fit for purpose -- there's a lot of clever
people coming out with commercial use of those aircraft and
those rules just don't suit," Moore said.
There had been cases of drones being flown near airports,
posing a hazard to planes taking off and landing. Farmers
using them could also pose a risk, he said.
"If they fly it out of line of sight with no direct control
over it, it could hit a topdressing plane -- a remote
possibility but it could happen."
The new rules would focus on the use of drones rather than
The "quick interim" steps would cover all operators who used
them -- mainly for photography and aerial surveillance.
They were not aimed at children flying toys.
"That's not a problem, they can continue to do that as they
have for years, but a real estate company using [them] for
photography in controlled airspace will need approval," Moore
Airways has just finished a project to ascertain the number
Airways general manager system operator Pauline Lamb said
that in the past six months, 45 had been approved by control
She said Airways aimed to allow the integration of the
aircraft into normal operations rather than separating them.
The organisation had set up a website giving information and
Heavy-handed legislation had been passed in Europe, but New
Zealand authorities wanted to avoid that.
"From a safety perspective we'd like to be in a position
where the industry self-regulates," she said.
Airways was used to complexities in its airspace and had
previously integrated different types of aircraft such as
balloons and gliders.
The organisation was doing research and development to build
small and light transponders to help with surveillance of
One Wellington operator, Sycamore, uses drones for aerial
photography for film and television but has slowed expansion.
"We, too, are concerned by the proliferation of the hobbyist
users in New Zealand with little or no knowledge of the
regulatory environment," said Sycamore's Ben Forman.
"We do not want to be tarred with the same brush as rogue
drone operators, which could stifle our lead in a global
industry worth an estimated US$11.6 billion annually and
US$89 billion in the next 10 years."
Forman said mass market UAVs claimed to be fail safe but that
was not the case.
"We see a lot of hobbyists flying with potential death traps
in the sky."