Pilots Seek Tighter Drone Laws While Waiting for Enhanced Technology


Pilots want drone laws to be strengthened by the government while they expect the new technology to make aircraft safer.

Drone Aeronavico with navigation lights

The Ministry of Transport is working on changing aviation regulations because of the increase in the number of drones
Photograph: Provided / Aircraft

In the long run, drones are expected to have installed technology, which will make it impossible for them to be used in restricted airspace.

But until then, the government is being asked to review its drone laws, as a growing number of near-misses are recorded between drones and airplanes.

On Sunday night, a drone was spotted by a pilot landing at Wellington Airport.

The airport stopped all arrivals and departures for about 15 minutes while they waited for the drone to land.

Tim Robinson, chairman of the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association, said pilots feared what a life-threatening situation would be if a plane and a drone collided.

"The main issue is the chance of collision," Robinson said.

"If there was a collision, especially with one of the larger sized drones with a small to medium-sized aircraft, it could be catastrophic, which could bring down those aircraft.

"The other great thing, of course, is the distraction.As you know, near the airports pilots are focusing on the takeoff and landing phase, and even a drone operating near the aircraft is a significant distraction when they should be concentrating, if at other things in a critical stage of flight. "

Robinson wants it to be mandatory for a drone to be registered by the owner, allowing the user to be tracked if he disregards the rules of the Civil Aviation Authority.

It's a way to make drones considerably safer as the technology is developed, which would take the risk away from the user's hands.

There will be some time in the near future when the drones have software loaded, which would not allow the drone to fly in a restricted airspace.

DJI drones already show a warning when they are some distance from an airport, but the user can still ignore the warning and send the drone up.

Developing technology would make this impossible, while other systems would ensure that the warnings would sound when any two aircraft were on a collision course.

This system, the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system, is currently under development with NASA running a research program.

"This technology is coming, it's just a matter of rules and regulations regarding this technology, going hand in hand to make sure it works in a way that is executable," Robinson said.

"We support [drone] technology, we support its development, it only needs to be securely integrated into our airspace so that we do not have incidents like the one we saw yesterday in Wellington. "

Drone vendor Ferntech distributes CAA information to anyone who buys a drone, whether in-store or online.

Ferntech company manager Adam Kerr said you can provide all the information to users, but you can not take into account someone's good sense.

"We advise customers, it's very common sense," Kerr said.

"From my experience in piloting drones and model airplanes, it seems dishonest, it probably is.

"Flying down into the bay next to the Wellington airport, you can imagine that you will see large planes coming in and out all day, every day.

"Certainly, you have to click for someone who is not safe to fly here."

Kerr said that another issue is the entry of tourists into the country, without knowing the laws of New Zealand on the use of drones.

It was a concern echoed by the Air Line Pilots Association.

Kerr suggested that people could declare that they were bringing a drone to the country and receive full guidance on local laws at the airport.

"The tourist side of things is even harder to regulate," Kerr said.

"It's going to be very difficult to manage and I understand why the pilot association would be worried about that. I'm personally fine too."

Police were alerted to the incident with the Sunday drone, but could not locate the owner.

A Wellington airport spokesman said the flights were only delayed by about 10 minutes as a result of the incident.

The Transport Ministry is working on changing aviation regulations because of the increase in the number of drones, said Tom Forster, manager of international connections at the Ministry.

"Our regulatory settings will need to keep pace with technology so we can maximize the benefits of advanced drones used for commercial purposes while managing the risks associated with minor drones used primarily for recreational purposes.

"This work includes looking at approaches from other economies to inform possible regulatory changes, including European regulations, to assess what may be relevant and appropriate for New Zealand."


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