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Flexible” Drone Regulations Add Concern for NZ Pilots

Flexible” Drone Regulations Add Concern for NZ Pilots

The concerns of New Zealand pilots and air traffic controllers about the ‘woeful inadequacy’ of safety regulation around the commercial use of drones, or Unmanned Aerial System/Vehicles (UAS), are yet to be taken seriously, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) said today.

Commenting on a pizza company’s plans to trial delivery by drone, NZALPA President Tim Robinson said that Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations that came into force in August last year did not take into account the informed and often repeated advice of pilots and the increasing number of ‘near-miss’ accidents that have underpinned pilot’s safety fears.

“Incidents already in urban areas around Canterbury and Auckland where pizzas are most likely to be delivered have demonstrated what we’ve been constantly saying to the Minister of Transport and CAA officials for some time, “ Robinson said.

“Should a drone come into contact with an aircraft then the consequences could be severe for those in the air and on the ground. Even a close encounter or ‘near-miss’ has the potential to lead to a serious accident.”

“Despite our numerous pleas, the government response was “flexible” regulations designed around a ‘wait and see’ approach, rather than legislating ahead to prevent a major accident occurring.

“'The CAA has been reluctant to share their information with us regarding UAS. This issue is far too crucial to the lives and wellbeing of New Zealanders and our international reputation to not heed expert advice on the effects of drones and other developing aviation technologies.”

Tim Robinson also pointed to a major close encounter recently around Queenstown Airport in which a drone narrowly missed a passenger aircraft.

“Queenstown is one of the most challenging international airports in the world. Surrounded by mountains, there’s limited airspace for departing and landing planes to safely avoid drones.”

As well as their ‘flexibility’, the current regulations, for example, have no requirement to identify nor link a drone device to its owner/operator, giving a lack of accountability and responsibility.

“NZALPA’s advice to the Minister and the CAA is based on the experience of the US Government who’ve instigated a ‘UAS Registration Programme’ for drones.”

“It’s important to remember that drones were originally developed and used for military use and the US has considerable experience with both their success and failure, including the real consequences of drone near encounters and accidents.”

“This registration programme could be easily adopted here and will assist in addressing serious flight safety issue and one which is set to increase significantly as more drones and UAS devices are released into New Zealand’s airspace.”

“Pilots and air traffic controllers have the most to gain from technological aviation advances and we don’t want to put a chilling effect on exciting developments. But, like our experience and specialised training has always shown us, we have to get the balance between innovation advancement and safety right.”


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