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WHAT’S THE BUZZ AROUND DRONE REGULATIONS IN NEW ZEALAND?
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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it superman? These days it’s more than likely to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (‘UAV’), otherwise known as a drone.

A few years ago it would have been unimaginable to think that a UAV could deliver pizza to your front door or enable farmers to analyse the health of their crops at the click of a button.

But, as technology has advanced and UAVs have become cheaper, smaller and more accessible, these devices are flying off the shelves. The majority of privately owned UAVs are used by hobbyists for taking aerial videos and enviable Instagram shots, or are flown just for fun. UAVs are also increasingly coveted by businesses that have found several uses for UAVs, from monitoring farms and inspecting powerlines, to shooting movies and photographing real estate. New Zealand businesses in particular have been at the forefront of innovation in the drone space and it is recognised that there are significant opportunities for many sectors in New Zealand, such as transport, farming, agriculture, and forestry.

If you’ve recently bought a drone, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get the battery charged and take it out for your first test flight. But before you do, you need to be aware of the New Zealand Civil Aviation Rules regulating the use of UAVs. These rules restrict an operator’s ability to fly their UAV in an airspace above property and people who have not given their consent for the UAV to operate in that particular airspace. These regulations aim to address safety risks associated with the rise of UAV ownership and use in New Zealand.

Lower risk UAVs, including recreational models, are regulated under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules. UAVs that are larger than 25kg or do not comply with rules under Part 101 are governed by Part 102 and require special authorisation for use. Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Rules enables higher-risk operators who wish to operate UAVs outside the existing rules to do so if they have presented a safety plan to the Civil Aviation Authority (‘CAA’) outlining how the operator will manage safety risks. The CAA has noted that this rule gives operators greater freedom while maintaining high standards of aviation safety.

Key requirements for operating pilotless aircraft weighing less than 25kg under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules include:

  • The operator needs to be able to see the aircraft with their own eyes (e.g. not through binoculars, a monitor, or smartphone).
  • The aircraft should only be flown in daylight.
  • The operator has to give way to all manned aircraft.
  • The operator has to fly their aircraft lower than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level.
  • The operator must have consent from people over whom they wish to fly their aircraft.
  • The operator must have consent of the property owner or individual in charge of the area over which they wish to fly the aircraft.
  • The operator cannot fly closer than four kilometres from any aerodrome.
  • The operator must take all practicable steps to minimise hazards and must have knowledge of airspace restrictions that apply.

Importantly, Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules includes the requirement for operators who want to fly over people or property to gain consent from the affected property owners or individuals before they fly the UAV. If your UAV is going to fly over someone's private property, you need to check with them first that it’s okay, just as you would if you wanted to walk onto their property. Operators also need to gain permission to fly over public spaces from the appropriate land-owner. This means that if you want to fly your UAV at the local park, you will need to gain permission from the local council. In addition to the Part 101 requirements, many councils also have their own rules, bylaws and codes of conduct in relation to the use of UAVs in public spaces and parks managed by the local council that operators must follow.

Operators who cannot meet the requirements under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules can still operate if they get an operating certificate from the CAA under Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Rules. This requires the applicant to submit a detailed risk assessment 'exposition' identifying all risks posed by the day-to-day operation of the UAV and setting out how those risks will be mitigated, competencies of the operator, aircraft details, and a sufficient maintenance programme. Each application will be considered on its own merits, allowing for a wide scope of UAV operations.

Operators of UAVs must also comply with other related legislation, such as the Privacy Act 1993 (relating to the collection, use, disclosure, and storage of personal information), Crimes Act 1961 (it is against the law to make covert intimate recordings of people without their consent or knowledge, and to publish them), and Summary Offences Act 1981 (it is against the law to peer into people’s homes and record any activity within).

The CAA is looking to crack down on people who breach the Civil Aviation Rules. Any breach of the Civil Aviation Rules could lead to confiscation of your UAV, a hefty fine, or even prosecution by the CAA if the CAA considers the breach to be a serious enough breach of the rules. While there has only been one prosecution under the regulations to date in New Zealand, there have been several warnings by local authorities. Last year, a person was issued an infringement notice and fined $3000 for flying a drone over the cenotaph at Palmerston North on Anzac Day. Similarly, the Civil Aviation Authority issued an infringement notice and fined a person $1000 for flying a UAV around Auckland City at night.

So, before you think about getting a birds-eye view, make sure you are well informed of your flight obligations and the rights of those around you to ensure that you don’t get caught out by the Civil Aviation Rules.

This article was written by Deborah Woodhouse, a Solicitor in our Auckland office. 

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