Sep 8, 2017

Drone SunsetAfter a surge in the popularity of flying remotely operated miniature aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, understandably there have been concerns raised regarding privacy and safety issues surrounding their use. Controlled air spaces, large crowds of people and use over a person’s private property are of particularly concern.

The increased use of drones has been brought about by their usefulness for both commercial applications, like aerial photography in real estate, infrastructure inspections, agriculture monitoring and specialised media coverage, and also for many purely recreational situations by people of all ages. In New Zealand drones are available for purchase from most major retailers, online sources and also specialised hobby shops nationwide, there are no restrictions on who can purchase a drone – sometimes they are referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) or Model Aircraft.

What Are The Rules For Flying Drones In NZ?

Drone Flying Near HouseOfficially referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the New Zealand CAA has introduced a set of “standard operating requirements” around the use of RPAS, UAVs, UASs, Drones and Model Aircraft for either commercial or recreational use. Regular drone useage comes under Part 101 of the Regulations and drones over 25kg or instances where the situation exceeds the standard operating requirements will be subject to a further certification process (see CAA Drone Regulations Part 102 below).

Implemented in August 2015, the CAA Drone Rules include restrictions on various conditions of flight; including heights, weights, proximity to airfields and permissions required for flying over private and public property. The new rules also provide provisions for the Privacy Act 1993 to be applied where the filming or recording of people is intended.

For drone operators in New Zealand the biggest challenge is likely to be the need to get permission from people and property owners before flying over them. Private property owners must give personal consent while in the case of public land, it is necessary to make contact with the local council or governing authority such as the Department of Conservation to seek approval. These local authorities also have the right to build in further restrictions or rules around the use of drones in certain areas.

CAA Drone Regulations Part 101

The drone regulations are divided into two main ‘Parts’, 101 and 102. Part 101 is summarised below (full details can be found on the CAA website).

  • Permission must be arranged before flying a drone in any controlled or special use airspace (eg around airports or military areas).
  • If wishing to fly over people or property consent must be obtained from the owners.
  • Drones must not weigh more than 25 kg (exceeding this require application under Part 102).
  • Hazard minimisation is the top priority, particularly in relation to other people, property and aircraft.
  • Drones are only permitted to be flown during daylight hours.
  • If encountering crewed aircraft the drone must get out of the way.
  • The pilot or operator must be able to visually see the drone at all times.
  • Drones must not be flown higher than 120 metres above ground level.
  • Drone operators must be aware of any airspace restrictions in the flight zone.
  • Drones must not be flown close to any aerodromes.

Please note this list is by no means a substitute for the full regulations set out by Part 101. It is necessary to conduct a thorough personal assessment and understand the application of the rules as per the CAA New Zealand Regulations for every drone flight.

CAA Drone Regulations Part 102

If pilots are unable to meet the regulations set out in Part 101 then they are able to apply for a Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate (UAOC) in order to legally operate their drone under Part 102 of the regulations. For example if the drone you are wishing to fly exceeds 25 kg.

Application for a UAOC under the Part 102 regulations are made to the CAA and are considered on a case-by-case basis and require the submission of risk identification and the associated plans to mitigate those risks. – Officially labelled an ‘exposition’. There are forms and templates available of the CAA website to assist applicants.

What Penalties Are Enforced When Breaching The CAA Drone Regulations?

Drone Near BuildingsAnybody breaching the CAA’s drone regulations and rules is subject to possible fines, criminal prosecution and confiscation of the aircraft. It is important to understand that drone operators can still face penalties even if they are unaware they are breaking the rules.

Breaches of Part 101 and 102 of the CAA rules may be subject to fines ranging from $500 to over $10,000 for individuals and $3,000 to over 30,000 for companies.

Like all participants in the aviation industry, people flying drones need to know the safety rules in order to ensure the safety of everyone whether in the air and on the ground. The above information must be looked upon as a guide only, full details of the CAA Drone Regulations and Rules are available on the CAA website.

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