11 Nov 2018

Drone leads to controlled airspace closure at Wellington Airport

9:11 pm on 11 November 2018

The controlled airspace around Wellington Airport was closed for 30 minutes this evening after a drone was spotted flying "extremely close" to the runway.

Wellington Airport

Wellington Airport (stock picture) Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Airways says the drone was spotted by a plane flying into the city at just after 6.30pm.

The drone was operating at 600 feet, 3km from the end of the runway in the Evans Bay area.

Pilots on the ground at the airport could see it operating for another 23 minutes.

Airways, which controls all domestic and international air traffic within the country's airspace, said the drone was operating in controlled airspace and the police were called.

Airways general manager of air traffic services Tim Boyle said there could have been catastrophic consequences if the drone was hit by a plane.

He said the drone was in breach of civil aviation rules and while it was not a near-miss it is difficult to predict where a drone will go.

"It is very dangerous to be flying a drone that close to an aerodrome, within three kilometres and at that sort of level it's exactly where aircraft on approach are going to be and if you can imagine an aircraft on final approach hitting an object that size, the results could be quite catastrophic."

Mr Boyle hopes either the police or the Civil Aviation Authority will be able to contact the drone's operator and explain why they cannot fly the machine where they were.

According to the civil aviation rules drones are not supposed to be flown higher than 400 feet, or closer than 4km from any aerodrome.

Wellington Airport said flights were delayed for about 15 minutes at the airport.

Flights have now resumed.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs