12 Aug 2020

Drone use rules in New Zealand not widely understood - CAA study

6:17 pm on 12 August 2020

A quarter of recreational drone users don't know the rules around where or when they can fly their device.

Drone trends and innovations. Modern hobby and leisure. Closeup of camera quadcopter controlled remotely by guy over blur sunset.

Drones are becoming more and more popular, with the number of recreational users increasing by about 30,000 in the past three years. Photo: 123RF

Research commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shows 10 percent of commercial drone flyers also don't understand the rules.

An educational campaign is being launched by the authority to try to increase the understanding of just where drones can be flown.

In particular, the CAA wants to send the message that "when you fly a drone, you're actually a pilot and you need to follow up some basic rules to keep other people safe on the ground and in the air", said Dean Winter, the CAA's deputy chief executive for aviation safety.

Six rules in particular are being featured:

  • Always fly below 120 metres
  • Don't fly over people without permission
  • Keep your drone in sight at all times
  • Stay 4km away from aerodromes and helipads
  • Give way to all aircraft. Land immediately
  • Don't fly over property without permission

The study - undertaken by Colmar Brunton - found there are 271,121 recreational drone users, flying 156,610 drones. The most common reason for using drones is entertainment.

It also found nearly 8000 businesses use drones, with just under half of those planning on using drones more in the future.

Drone footage Nov 2019

The NZ Transport Agency uses drones to film footage of its projects, such as Transmission Gully. Photo: Screenshot / NZTA

With such popularity, the authority is stressing the importance of knowing the rules to ensure safety. One in five flights occur in restricted airspace without permission.

"Thankfully to date, there has been no serious injury, but this is about being proactive," said CAA's Dean Winter. "It's about getting out there so people can ensure they know what potential risks there are.

"Obviously there's risks of flying in restricted airspace next to airports [and] risks of flying over and around people. It's just about getting people to understand that there are rules which govern that activity."

Drones are becoming more and more popular, with the number of recreational users increasing by about 30,000 in the past three years.

That's also reflected in the number of complaints that are being made about drones, with just six reported in 2012, increasing to 506 in 2018. Meanwhile, in the first seven months of this year, there have already been 437 complaints.

Winter said the proportion of complaints per drone was actually going down, but the number going up was just because there were so many more drones out there.

Founder of Drones NZ Jack Scott said this was because of "the technology being a lot more accessible, and parts more readily available".

He said it meant "a lot of people with zero experience, flying experience can go out and fly a drone".

There is a degree of uncertainty among non-users, especially around drones being used for transporting goods or people, and being photographed by drones.

However, there is widespread support for drones being used for a public good, such as by firefighters assessing a fire, or local councils identifying problems with their infrastructure.

  • Autonomous sea craft to police Pacific fisheries
  • Drones to help patrol PNG border
  • Drones for Christmas: CAA urges rules be followed
  • Birds vs drones: Pilots flouting rules, DOC says
  • Drones wanted in fight to protect Māui dolphins