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Aviation expert: New Zealand must update its drone regulations before tragedy occurs




A PhD researcher at Victoria University in Wellington believes New Zealand must update its drone regulations to provide a greater deterrent to would-be drone pests.

Writing for Newsroom, Andrew Shelly establishes his case for the need for reform by pointing out that there are already some 280,000 private drone owners in NZ. Additionally, around 200,000 tourists bring one into the country on holiday every year. He says that current drone rules were insufficient to prevent drone pilots from undertaking idiotic acts that could put the public at risk.

There have been five recent incidents at airports around New Zealand which caused significant delays or diversions of airplanes. In one recent event at New Zealand’s largest airport in Auckland, the sight of a drone near a runway caused 20 flights to enter a holding pattern for half an hour and a flight from Japan flew 300 miles (500 kilometers) to a different airport to refuel.

This incident is one of many international cases of near-misses between drones and aircraft. Thankfully, til this point, no commercial planes have crashed as a result of drone activity but countries around the world are thinking of ways of minimizing the chances that any such tragedy should occur.

Current laws in New Zealand do forbid flying drones within four kilometers of an airport or helipad and if you wish to do so, you need permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), equivalent to the US’ FAA.

Andrew Shelly points out, it is currently very difficult for authorities to identify who drone perpetrators are and New Zealand is not equipped to deal with a drone when it goes rogue. Research recently conducted in New Zealand on behalf of the CAA revealed that only 55 percent of NZ drones users were aware of the country’s drone rules.

So what’s the solution?


Andrew Shelly floats the idea of drone licensing. We have to possess licenses for cars, other vehicles or guns – why not for drones? Perhaps comparing a drone to a car is a step to far. A far better comparison is to remote control cars, skateboards or bicycles – none of which require a license but all of which could cause a nuisance to others in public. He ultimately concludes that this would not be the best solution

A big problem with implementing a license system is it may be time-consuming, expensive and some drone owners may simply skip getting a license. Enforcing a license system would likely be costly and challenging for authorities. So what else?

Counter-UAV systems?

Andrew Shelly said the best way New Zealand can defend against unwanted behavior or acts by errant drone users is adopting anti-UAV systems. There are multiple technologies that fall within this description, perhaps the most famous of which is drone killer devices which interrupt the connection between drones and their pilots and cause the drone to either return to their home point or land.

A drone killer device does not necessarily have to be a gun, such as is pictured below. It can also be GPS jammers or even special grenades that knock the drones out of the sky. Many federal authorities in the United States have had great success through adoption of anti-UAV technologies and this can be particularly important at major public event, where large crowds of people are gathered.

A solution for poorly behaving drones? DroneShield’s badass-looking drone killer device.

As the law currently stands in New Zealand, drones are not considered differently to normal airplanes, meaning authorities are limited in what action they can take against a misbehaving drone.

Thanks for reading!

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