23 Dec 2018

NZ airline industry: Gatwick shows drone-law overhaul needed

8:36 am on 23 December 2018

Pilots and air traffic controllers say New Zealand airports are already facing safety threats from drones, and more must be done to control their use.

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Photo: 123RF

London's Gatwick Airport was forced to close for more than 36 hours over the weekend, because someone was flying drones over the runway.

The closure caused travel chaos, affecting more than 100,000 Christmas travellers.

Sussex police have since made two arrests in connection with the disruption.

In New Zealand, those working in the airline industry warned the same thing could easily happen in this country.

The New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association said the Gatwick situation was an urgent wake-up call for this country to strengthen its own drone laws.

President Tim Robinson said the government must urgently update the laws, in the wake of the problems at Gatwick.

"It's the first time we've really seen a major interruption of this period of time, with drones," he said.

"There's going to be significant changes to law and drone detection technology to deal with a situation such as this."

He said the rules needed updating urgently, to protect the public.

"These aspects of drone usage need to be accelerated. We need to look at the rules more carefully, and the whole process of basically keeping up with the technology and the number currently in use."

Mr Robinson said drone users should be forced to register, and the penalties for flying the machines near airports should be increased.

The calls were backed by Airways New Zealand.

Its head of strategy Trent Fulcher said it got a couple of reports a week of drones being flown in and around airports - up from one a week, a year ago.

"The biggest risk is that a drone comes in contact with an aircraft and there's a catastrophic event, and that's exactly what we're trying to prevent," he said.

He said Airways was working with the government to develop new guidelines and rules for flying drones.

"We've been pushing quite hard... for three changes," he said.

"One is mandatory registration of all drones, secondly certification and training for pilots, and thirdly the ability to track drones either through software or hardware on the drone itself."

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