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Yet another drone narrowly misses a plane – how do we fix this?

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Another day, another idiot making an ill-conceived adventure with their drone.

On Sunday afternoon, an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200 (similar to the one pictured) from Tokyo was coming into land at Auckland International Airport, New Zealand, with 278 passengers and crew onboard.

The plane’s pilots report that at the point they had committed to their descent, a drone came within five meters of their craft. Because they were mid-landing, it would have been impossible for the pilots to take evasive action had the drone flown in front of one of the 777-200’s enormous turbines. Thankfully the plane landed safely and no one was harmed. These incidents are, however, becoming far too common.

This was the second time in the past month that New Zealand’s main airport was affected by a rogue drone. In early March, the runways were shut down for half an hour after a pilot spotted a drone in controlled airspace.

New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director Graeme Harris told Stuff.co.nz:

“”There is no excuse for anyone flying a drone near an airport without authorization or in the flight-path of aircraft. Such action is highly irresponsible and is the height of stupidity.”

Air New Zealand has unsurprisingly called on Kiwi lawmakers to get tougher on those who flout the rules with their UAVs. Under current NZ CAA regulations, those who violate the rules of flying (including not flying near airports, at night or out of a pilot’s line-of-sight) could be subject to fines of up to $5000 NZD.

In the United States – the rules are a bit harsher. The Federal Aviation Authority can issue civil penalties of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties can include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

Is it time we get tougher on law breakers?

This is becoming a huge problem. In 2017, Bloomberg reported that the number of near misses between planes and drones in the United States had risen by nearly 50 percent compared with 2016. We have written multiple stories about people’s irresponsible and reckless behavior with drones.

If this trend continues and a passenger plane is struck by a drone causing death, we could rightly expect a massive wave of new regulations for consumer drone operators.

As with people who shine their laser pointers in pilot’s eyes, it is vital for airports to figure out who the culprit is. We’ve previously written about some of the solutions to take rogue drones out of the skies. These include net-shooting drones and even specially trained eagles.

If you see or know anyone who is acting like a moron with a drone – either report them to authorities or give them a stern word. Just remember – it only takes a couple of idiots to spoil the party for everyone.

To give an example: in New Zealand, a few years ago it used to be legal for backpackers to park their cars or campervans in nature and parks around the country and sleep overnight. Then some of those campers started leaving rubbish and faeces (yes – really). The NZ public got mad and now most local authorities around the county have banned freedom camping. It doesn’t matter that most backpackers were responsible campers – the unthinking mouthbreathers ruined it for everyone. If reckless drone behaviour isn’t brought under control, there maybe a terrible tragedy. If that happens, expect strict regulations to follow soon after.

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