Currently, the rules around flying and owning a drone in New Zealand are very simple. For a full copy they can be found on the Airshare website but for now we will summarise them;
New Zealand drone regulations are a little deeper than this but essentially if you comply with these you will, for the most part, be within the rules.
Worldwide the increase in drone ownership is growing year on year. This ranges from small entry level drones with a 60 to 100 metre range through to professional drones with 30-minute flight times and a 7-kilometre range. Many drones are purchased online from Chinese companies and therefore do not come with the local flight regulations. It is then left up to the new drone owner to investigate the laws themselves. Here-in-lies the problem as many people believe the rules only apply to bigger drones, professional drones or do not know there are any rules at all! From my experience there is also confusion over what the rules are. Here in Christchurch, the City Council allows drone operators to fly in most parks without seeking their permission provided the drone is no heavier than 1.5kg. However, parks that fall with 4 km of the airport, heritage or garden parks and cemeteries are no fly zones without council permission. Open air public pools, playgrounds and any council owned wet lands or wildlife sanctuaries also require council permission. Flying over council buildings, public roads or over large crowds requires part 102 certification. These rules apply across most of New Zealand but it is always important to ensure you check the local rules.
The Airmap app is a must have. You have at your fingertips, a tool that knows where you are, your proximity to airports, military installations and any no-fly zone right across New Zealand. It provides warnings and instructions and also allows you to plot and log your flights.
Mojo NZ Drones shares drone news from across the world. While researching the latest news it is becoming more and more evident that, worldwide, some individuals do not play by the rules. From criminals using drones to drop drugs and phones into prisons to the guy who flew his DJI Phantom 4 into a Blackhawk Helicopter to the person who TWICE flew their drone around Gatwick airport causing 15 hours of chaos. It is these kinds of careless individuals that will cause aviation authorities around the globe to crack down on recreational drone operators, reducing the opportunities to enjoy flying in some of the most wonderful areas on the planet and sharing our photos and videos on sites such as Airvuz and Dronestagram.
New Zealand drone operators are not immune from breaking the regulations. Prior to the CAA introducing the UAV regulations on August 1 2015 there were 52 incidents reported between 2007 and 2015. Since the laws were introduced there have been 12 incidents investigated by the CAA. So far there has only been one person prosecuted by the CAA over drone use. In July last year Simon Reeve was sentenced to make a $500 donation to charity and discharged without conviction on the charge of unnecessary endangerment.
The incident related to January 2015, when Reeve operated a drone in a controlled zone in close proximity to a helicopter which was conducting firefighting duties over the Pines Beach settlement, in North Canterbury.
In April 2017 an overseas visitor was fined $500 for flying his drone over the Auckland harbour bridge which consequently landed on one of the clip-on lanes. As he was a visitor and had not investigated the CAA laws he was given an infringement notice for his error.
As at this time there is a third incident that is in the early stages of progress. A man could face 14 years in jail for allegedly using a drone dangerously as helicopters and firefighters fought a 200-hectare Central Otago wildfire. Jorge Eduardo Riquelme Cruz, 33, of no fixed abode in Wanaka, has appeared in the Queenstown District Court. He is charged with having reckless disregard for the safety of firefighting helicopters that was likely to cause danger to those helicopters and pilots. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment. He could face a further four months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine on a charge of operating an unmanned drone in a manner that caused unnecessary danger to firefighting pilots and their helicopters.
This latest alleged incident is by far the most serious New Zealand drone incident to date.
The question is; how do we educate people to the drone laws to minimise potentially serious breaches? Mojo NZ Drones provides drone familiarity sessions on request and provides the CAA regulations with every drone sold. For the New Zealand drones market moving forward, education by responsible suppliers is one answer. The possible development of a licensing system is another thought. And it will come to the point where all drones will need to be registered much like we do with our cars.
New Zealand drone pilots are well behaved generally. As with any burgeoning technology, there will always be teething incidents but with common sense these can be mitigated in conjunction with the regulations. And it is always polite to ask permission from others if you are going to fly your drone in their vicinity. I have never been denied permission and in asking people if it is ok and informing them of my intentions with the images I take, I have provided a positive experience for them towards drones and drone operators.
Fly safe and stick to the rules
I began my career as a builder and progressed through to the owner of Mojo NZ Ltd. The first drone I owned is to this day lodged in a tree on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. We now provide drones to all industries from toys to racing drones to professional camera drones. This blog is a look at ourselves and the industry in general.