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Better drone education and enforcement urgently needed

April 11, 2018

Contacts

Senior Associates Louise Taylor

Digital & new technologies

Better education around drone regulations, effective enforcement and a review of rules for commercial drones are urgently required in the face of escalating use and high-profile incidents.

Senior Associate Louise Taylor cites recent incidents where drones have interfered with aircraft operations at both Auckland Airport and Whenuapai Air Force Base as part of a worrisome trend that will likely escalate without prompt action.  

“The issue is not the rules themselves, which are broadly sensible and in line with approaches taken in other jurisdictions like Australia and the UK. However, better education and enforcement of the rules would help to prevent near misses or worse,” says Taylor.

“Relying on common sense alone is not enough - we don’t let drivers loose on the roads without knowing the road rules so the same principle should apply in the air.”

Taylor says successful prosecutions of unsafe or intrusive drone operators by the CAA, and publicity of the enforcement action taken, would be a useful way to raise public awareness of the rules and the consequences for any failure to comply.

“However the CAA often relies on individuals to report unsafe or intrusive drone operations, particularly where the drone is used outside the sight of air traffic control,” says Taylor.

“They do provide avenues for the public to report unsafe drone operations but this information may not be commonly known and is not easy to find.”

She says that awareness could also be raised through a general education campaign and by ensuring that anyone purchasing drones in New Zealand is made aware of the rules at the point of sale.  

“Australia and the UK also have free drone apps that set out where drones can be flown. A similar initiative in New Zealand could also help raise awareness on where drones are allowed to fly, as drone operators currently have to visit a separate site (from the CAA website) to find a map of the different air zones.”

Commercial drone use

While commercial drone use in New Zealand is currently niche, Simpson Grierson believes this is will change rapidly in the next few years as businesses seek to realise the benefits of this technology.

“The current rules do not explicitly differentiate between personal and commercial use of drones. Instead, they impose additional approval and certification requirements depending on the weight and intended use of the drones,” says Taylor. 

“This is an area that will need further consideration. In Australia and the UK there are separate rules for the use of commercial drones, and licences/certifications are required to fly commercial drones in some cases.”

The law firm says that as the number of commercial operators in New Zealand increases, further rules or regulations may be required to streamline the process of obtaining the appropriate permissions and authorisations for the operation of commercial drones.

“For example if a commercial operator wanted to deliver food via drones at night, they would currently require a certificate granted by the Director of Civil Aviation,” says Taylor.  

“Applications for a certificate must have regard to the nature, degree and risk of the intended operations, and appear to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This could create a foreseeable backlog and could possibly hamper local innovation, depending on the number of applications and resources available to process them.”