Drone pilots need to know the rules

Drone pilots are being reminded they need to be aware of aviation rules when flying remote controlled aircraft, with the increasing popularity of drones calling into question air safety.

Rotorua Regional Airport acting chief executive Wayne Wootton says operators need to be aware of where they can and cannot fly their remote controlled aircraft and that they are considered air traffic users.

“There is more to flying a remotely controlled aircraft than people think and with the increasing popularity of drones in particular, people must understand the Civil Aviation rules before flying their unarmed aviation vehicle, even if they are flying recreationally.

“Air traffic users have a responsibility to keep themselves, as well as others who use the space, safe.”

Civil Aviation rules set out where unarmed aviation vehicles (UAV) such as drones can fly, which includes outside of airspace restricted areas. Drones are unable to be flown within 4km of any aerodrome or within 4km of any defined area of land or water designed to be used wholly or partly for the landing, departure, and surface movement of aircraft, for example airfields and heliports.

“Despite the majority of people knowing they cannot fly remote controlled aircraft within airport airspace, what many may not know is they are also not able to fly in spaces such as around hospitals, where rescue helicopters operate, and the likes of the Rotorua lakefront, where different aviation tourism operators are located.

“Pilots also need to be aware of relevant airspace restrictions, for example controlled airspace, low flying zones, danger areas, restricted areas and military operational areas. As a rule, UAVs need to be flown below 400 feet above ground level during daylight hours and within visual line of site.

“It is also important that pilots use the right radio frequencies so they don’t cause harmful interference to vital radio systems such as air traffic control, emergency services or cellphones.”

If UAVs are over 25kg in weight, they are considered a “pilotless aircraft” and operators must apply to the Civil Aviation Authority to obtain authorisation to fly. If UAVs are under 25kg, they are considered a “model aircraft” and do not require authorisation, although are governed by Civil Aviation Rule Part 101.

Mr Wootton says it comes down to the responsibility of each individual pilot to know the rules.

“We all want to enjoy our open spaces and the development of drones gives people a greater level of access to the air than ever before – but we have to ensure that everyone uses this space safely.”

Civil Aviation has further information available at www.airshare.co.nz.