Adapting the legal landscape for UAVs

In an earlier article we wrote about the Ministry of Transport’s Discussion Document Enabling Drone Integration (Discussion Document).  Now, as a further step in adapting the legal landscape to technological developments in unmanned aircraft vehicles (including drones) (UAVs), on 8 September 2021 the Government introduced into Parliament the new Civil Aviation Bill (Bill).  It then had its first reading on 29 September and has been referred to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee for consideration.

Overview

The Bill has been a long time coming, and has been subject to several consultative processes over a 5 year process (including a 2019 exposure draft you may remember our previous reporting on).  As a result of this development process, the Bill promises to implement substantive policy changes, including the incorporation of amendments that are intended to account for new and emerging technologies as they relate to UAVs.  If passed it will replace the Civil Aviation Act 1990 (CA Act) and the Airports Authorities Act 1996.

This article continues our reporting on the regulation of UAVs, focusing on what impacts the Bill will have on the use and ownership of UAVs and what this might mean for you.

Extending the scope of regulation to UAVs

To bring UAVs more directly into the scope of civil aviation law, the Bill uses new definitions of various terms, including ‘operator’, ‘pilot-in-command’ and ‘accident’, each now introduced or extended to contemplate circumstances where a person responsible for the aircraft may be operating or controlling it remotely.

The impact of these changes is significant. Where previously an unmanned aircraft (despite falling under the definition of ‘aircraft’) had limited provisions attaching to it by virtue of its remote operation, now a whole suite of provisions will apply to UAV users.  Key points reflecting this change in scope around UAVs are:

  • clarity in the application of various existing civil aviation provisions in relation to UAVs, such as:
    • all persons that operate UAVs are aviation participants and must comply with all civil aviation laws;
    • the pilot-in-command of the UAV must adhere to the same responsibilities as a pilot-in-command of a traditional aircraft, for instance, being responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft;
  • introduction of a new offence of operating an aircraft in a controlled airspace or a restricted area without authorisation;
  • requirement to report accidents involving UAVs to the Civil Aviation Authority;
  • the police and other civil aviation authorised persons will have the power to seize, detain and destroy UAVs in certain circumstances, such as where the UAV is operating in breach of civil aviation laws or in a way that may endanger people or property.

The Bill also introduces some new provisions generally, which would also apply to UAVs.  These include a new part covering drug and alcohol testing.

Changes to the Rules

Additionally, the new Bill will require the Minister of Transport to make new Civil Aviation Rules (Rules), that reflect the purpose and requirements of the Act. We anticipate any differences to the existing Rules will be largely drawn from the changes proposed in the Discussion Document that we have recapped in our article earlier this year on drone integration.

Next steps

Now is your chance to have a further say on what the Bill proposes.  Submissions must be made by 2 December 2021.  At Lane Neave we have specialists in technology law, so if you would like assistance in drafting submissions or any further information on how the proposed changes could impact you, please get in touch with us.

Click here for other Corporate Law articles.

Meet the team that makes
things simple.

Graeme Crombie
Helena Scholes