Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study


Last day of July, three and a half hours til August (at the time I started typing) and I realise I haven’t written anything all month…

DJI Phantom

Unmanned aircraft is a subject that I thought I had moved on from but this report popped up in my inbox this evening…only a couple of days after I spoke with a couple of clowns flying a large drone over the Chateau Golf Course in Whakapapa Village. They pleaded ignorance of both National Park and Civil Aviation Agency legislation relating to flying drones in or over the Park but really? You don’t buy and operate a big drone like that without knowing the law.

That law is quite simple:

It is illegal to land, take-off or hover an aircraft in, from or over Tongariro National Park. A drone (of any class or size) is regarded as an aircraft. Any exceptions must have prior formal written approval from the Department of Conservation.

The land-owner’s prior permission is required before a drone can be flown over private land; or the permission from the mandated controlling authority for public land e.g. the local council or, for the Park, the Department of Conservation.

 In addition, rescue helicopters can and do enter the Park at any time of day or night, from any direction. Even on a clear day, the setting sun can obscure vision to such an extent that a pilot may not see a drone in time to avoid it.

airfield 4km

CAA Rules also prohibit the operation of drones within 4km of an airfield, that is 4km from the closest boundary of an airfield. For Whakapapa Village, that 4km limit takes you to just above the bridge over the Whakapapanui Stream. It means that you can’t fly your drone:

at Discovery Lodge (which has its own heli-pad in any case) or

at the camp site at Mangahuia, further along SH47 towards National Park Village, or

over Mahuia Rapids just along 47 in the other direction or

on the Tawhai Falls or Mound Walk trails that come off SH48.

Those who say that a small drone wouldn’t do any significant damage to an manned aircraft should read the report that I received this evening. You can find the report, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study, here.

It is sobering reading: even a small (think Toyworld) drone can cause considerable damage to a light aircraft or helicopter, particularly the windscreen and tail rotor. Any components ingested into the engine may also cause unneeded excitement for the pilot and passengers of that manned aircraft.

the bits that hurt

The bits that hurt…

In a way this report is quite gratifying as it supports the work that I did for the Air and Space Interoperability Council and subsequently NATO on the hazards of small unmanned aircraft sharing operational airspace with manned aircraft.

If you own a drone of any sort in New Zealand, you do need to read Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Agency Rules, and the note RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft. You won’t, of course, because you think you have an ultimate right to do whatever you like in the Park…that’s alright…but don’t be surprised if guides or Rangers just snap your pic and send it directly to CAA for action…

You might think it’s great your drone will follow your phone as you rip down the slopes at Whakapapa or Turoa…on a ‘good’ day in winter, there may be a half dozen or more rescue helicopter flights on to the ski fields or around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often in restricted visibility: that’s hard enough without the pilot having to worry about some goon operating their drone illegally.

Similarly, around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, no one wants to be subjected to mosquito-like totally annoying whine of your drone…nor should should pilots have to look out for them as they approach for a rescue – when you’re too dumb to hear the helo coming in and dump your drone…

What we really need are a few good prosecutions to drive this message home BEFORE we have an accident…

Aviation Related Concern

To report an aviation safety or security concern, that may include complaints, or allegations of suspected breaches of civil aviation legislation, call: 0508 4SAFETY (0508 472 338) available office hours (voicemail after hours), or email: isi@caa.govt.nz.

Pictures, video, rego numbers are useful information to back up your complaint and hopefully lead to a successful prosecution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse…

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