Public warning for drone users

Airways New Zealand is warning anyone who gets a drone for Christmas to be aware of their safety responsibilities.

The organisation, which has responsibility for controlling, says a new website,www.airshare.co.nz is a hub for people to find out where to fly their unmanned aerial vehicles safely. Near misses with aircraft in the United States have prompted authorities there to also issue a Christmas warning.

The Airways site allows UAV operators to also log where they fly – a useful feature for all UAV users, from those with small recreational UAVs to large commercial operators – and request access to controlled airspace through the website.

The site has been developed by Airways in partnership with industry group UAVNZ, Callaghan Innovation and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“UAVs are now sophisticated enough to reach high altitudes and pose serious risks in controlled airspace. We’re asking people to always log their flights on airshare, even if they are simply taking their model helicopter for a spin locally,” she said/

“The public really needs to be aware of their responsibilities when flying UAVs. Airshare helps people to quickly discover where they can fly and what they need to know. Ultimately, we’re reminding people that they are responsible for operating their drone or UAV safely.”

Camera equipped drones with a range of several hundred metres can be bought for a few hundred dollars in shops and cost even less when bought online direct from China.

Ms Lamb said a quick and easy-to-use online form allows people to view maps of controlled airspace and uncontrolled aerodromes to check whether they need to request access from air traffic control or aerodrome operators, monitor their flight request status, and save favourite flights.

“Safety is key in an airspace environment, and it’s important that our air traffic controllers know what’s operating in our airspace.”

In the United States the Government, alarmed by increasing encounters between small drones and manned aircraft, have also launched a safety campaign.

The campaign includes a website – www.knowbeforeyoufly.com – which advises both recreational and commercial drone operators of FAA regulations and how to fly their unmanned aircraft safely. The campaign was announced by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Small UAV Coalition, both industry trade groups, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents model aircraft hobbyists, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The two industry trade groups also said they plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events, and are working with drone manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.

Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today’s more sophisticated model aircraft, are flying off the shelves this Christmas.

The FAA is concerned that amateurs are using the drones in a reckless manner, increasing the likelihood of a collision that could bring down a plane or rain debris down on people. The agency has been receiving about 25 reports per month this year of drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports, up from just a handful of reports two years ago.

As of the end of 2013, about one million small drones had been sold worldwide for recreational and commercial use, according to industry estimates. Sales this year are expected to significantly outdistance previous tallies.

“Many of these operators have no aviation history, background or knowledge,” Margaret Gilligan, FAA’s associate administrator for safety, told a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. “They think they just bought something fun that they just want to fly around. They don’t for a moment think, ‘I’m entering the national airspace system.’ ”

Such operators don’t intend to interfere with manned aircraft, but “they just don’t know what they don’t know,” she said.

In response to safety concerns, Amazon created a special webpage on it’s website with safety information for drone customers. Some drones on the market are capable of reaching altitudes as high as 18,000 feet – the start of “class A” airspace where most passenger and cargo airlines cruise.

Ben Berman, an airline captain who flies Boeing 737s, told the same forum that “the current situation is out of control.”

In September, a New York Police Department helicopter had a near-miss with a drone. The pilots of a regional airliner recently reported spotting a drone 500 feet to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 meters) off the plane’s right side during a landing approach to runway 4 of the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina. The drone was described as the size of a large bird. The pilots of another regional airliner flying at about 10,000 feet (3000m) reported seeing at least one drone pass less than 500 feet above the plane, moving slowly to the south toward Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh.

NZ Herald