Drone operator put 'out of business'

Oamaru’s Damien McNamara, of Altitude Surveying, with his drone at Takaro Park near Oamaru Hospital. He is unable to fly his drone within a 4km radius of the hospital unless he adheres to Civil Aviation Authority rules. Photo: Daniel Birchfield
Oamaru’s Damien McNamara, of Altitude Surveying, with his drone at Takaro Park near Oamaru Hospital. He is unable to fly his drone within a 4km radius of the hospital unless he adheres to Civil Aviation Authority rules. Photo: Daniel Birchfield
An Oamaru drone operator says he is essentially ''out of business'' after it was revealed unmanned aircraft cannot be flown within a 4km radius of Oamaru Hospital unless strict Civil Aviation Authority rules are adhered to.

Questions about whether people could fly drones and other unmanned aircraft - including kites and balloons - near the hospital were recently raised on social media.

Some expressed confusion as to what the rules were and what, if any, restrictions were in place.

In response to questions from the Otago Daily Times, Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Blake Crayton-Brown confirmed the hospital's concrete helicopter pad and prior grassed area had been classed as an uncontrolled aerodrome since the hospital was relocated to its current location at Takaro Park in August 2000.

The authority created rules that governed the use of unmanned aircraft in 1997, which meant as soon as the area started to be used for helicopter transports it fell under part 101 of the authority's rules, despite its recent inclusion in Aeronautical Information Publication New Zealand information.

Damien McNamara, of Altitude Surveying, said while he was aware the rules applied to Oamaru Airport, Omarama Airport and a flight exclusion zone administered by the Department of Conservation near Moeraki, he only recently discovered they applied to Oamaru Hospital.

His business, which he operated part-time, specialised in unmanned aerial and land-based photography and video services, mainly for community groups and real estate agents.

''Effectively, I'm out of business. It's as simple as that,'' he said.

''There's been absolutely no public consultation or publication or anything. It was pure luck I found out about it. I rang the council and informed them and they were like 'When did this happen?'.''

The rules state that a person must not operate a remotely piloted aircraft on or within a 4km radius of an uncontrolled aerodrome, unless it was agreed to by the aerodrome operator, who in this case was Waitaki District Health Services.

Several other rules also had to be adhered to if flying an unmanned aircraft within the radius.

A person must hold an appropriate pilot qualification, such as a glider or microlight pilot certificate, an unmanned aircraft pilot certificate issued by an approved training provider, or be under the direct supervision of someone who did.

An observer was also required who was responsible for ''maintaining situational awareness and providing you with information about any other aircraft that may be approaching or operating nearby''.

The aircraft was not able to be operated at a height of more than 400 feet, unless approved by the aerodrome operator.

Waitaki District Council recreation manager Erik van der Spek said the council was not aware of the helipad's status until ''a couple of weeks ago'', but would continue to issue permits.

daniel.birchfield@odt.co.nz

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