Drone technology has been used by defense organizations and tech-savvy consumers for quite some time, police departments are flying drones to help with crowd control and you can buy drones online to take aerial pictures of your kids or neighborhood. However, incidents of rogue drones causing mid-air emergency like incidents are being reported on an almost daily basis. Right after the Gatwick airport shut down that resulted in commercial aviation disruption throughout Britain and Europe last year, many more incidents of potential harm causing unauthorised drone use have come to light from different corners of the world.
One incident reported was when emergency authorities in Tasmania, Australia had to suspend aerial efforts to dowse bush-fires raging on Bruny Island because of a drone whizzing in the airspace above the fires.
In Auckland too, the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand is investigating two drone incidents on New Year’s Eve. A police helicopter had to suspend operations when a drone came within 10m of the aircraft. In another incident a helicopter pilot who had a near-miss with a drone on New Year’s Eve says the incident had the potential to be catastrophic. Tony Monk, who specialises in aerial filming, was flying a chopper capturing the New Year’s SkyCity fireworks display when he and his crew saw the red light of a drone about 30 metres away.
According to NZ civil aviation rules, drones are not allowed to be flown higher than 122 metres or closer than 4km from any aerodrome. Acting director of Civil Aviation, John Kay, said people who fly drones and ignore the rules created unacceptable safety risks.
Assuring that the authorities were investigating and would take appropriate action on the straying drone incidents Kay said, “The rules around drones are there to keep people safe, whether they’re in the air or on the ground. Anyone intending to fly a drone must know the Civil Aviation Rules and then fly it safely.”
The NZ Civil Aviation Authority advises on things any person flying a drone needs to do:
- Fly the aircraft so it isn’t a hazard to other aircraft, property and people.
- Fly it only in daylight
- Fly only when able to see the aircraft with your own eyes
- Fly your aircraft no higher than 120 m (400 feet) above ground level.
- Avoid flying over people that you do not have consent from.
- Get consent from the owner of the land you are flying over.
- Know about airspace, especially restrictions applying in the area you want to fly.
- Fly no closer than 4 km from any uncontrolled aerodrome. Fly your aircraft clear of controlled airspace. Controlled airspace normally extends well beyond 4 km from a controlled aerodrome, and to the ground.
- Give way to all manned aircraft.
- Get permission from the administering authority (such as the army) to fly in special use airspace (such as a military operating area).
Fly an aircraft that is no heavier than 25 kg.
Drone operators who breach the regulations can be fined up to $5000. Australia’s Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) have already moved to tighten drone flying regulations.
CASA’s website and Facebook page list regulations for authorised drone flight. It has an app to assist people about queries related to safe and legal drone flying. Drone owners are set to face tighter regulations, including having to sit a test, before they can be accredited to fly the craft.
From next month, CASA will deploy new mobile technology to identify serial numbers of drones flying in restricted airspace and help locate drone operators within minutes. Also from mid-2019, drones operators both recreational and commercial will have to register their devices with CASA and undergo online training and safety courses.