Enabling drones integration

On 6 April 2021, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) released its Discussion Document Enabling Drone Integration (Discussion Document) on proposed options to update the Civil Aviation Rules applying to drones that have been in place since 2015.  The Discussion Document is also an excellent source of information on what Rules apply to drone use, other government projects on drones, and what the regulatory landscape looks like in a number of other jurisdictions, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Discussion Document recognises the fast development and increasing use of drones (be it for recreational, commercial or military use) and the 2019 adoption of a long term strategy of integration in New Zealand’s broader transport system; as a premise that the existing Rules need to be adapted to safely support the ever changing characteristics and capabilities of drones. The Discussion Document outlines proposed options for change over a span of 5 plus years.  It has a longer-term focus with a view to the regulatory landscape developing with the technology and proposing that what is needed in later years should support drone integration into the transport system.

The Discussion Document outlines some current problems, largely all related to safety, security and privacy (such as causal drone operators not knowing the Rules and the lack of enablement for drone integration and more advanced drone operations), and then suggests various options to help address those problems.  The benefits, costs, risks and challenges of the proposals are also highlighted.  A number of questions on the various options are posed and feedback on them is being sought.

There are five areas where change is being considered in the Discussion Document:

  • Changes to the existing Rules, such as replace the requirement for consent to fly drones over people and property with minimum flying distance requirements, introduce new Rules to cover tethered drones, and clarify the Rule around the use of a spotter/observer to meet the visual line of sight requirement;
  • Introduce mandatory online theory testing to achieve a basic pilot qualification for Part 101 drone pilots (or supervisors of pilots under 14 years old);
  • Require registration of all drones over 250 grams;
  • Require remote identification capability be used for certain drones to improve situational awareness of drone pilots and others in the airspace (e.g. drones operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS drones)); and
  • Creating a standardised map of aeronautical information for drone operations and requiring the use of geo-awareness technology on certain drones or operations (e.g. also for BVLOS drones) to provide alerts around entering a prohibited zone.

These proposals accompany other drone projects across government, including Airspace Integration Trials spanning 5 years; an upcoming Civil Aviation Bill; and the continuing development of the AirShare platform providing resources to drone users.

The Discussion Document is a must read for anyone using or contemplating using drones.  This is also your opportunity to submit on the various problems and options considered in the Discussion Document.  Submissions will help frame the changes to the Rules and the new requirements that will take place over the next year or so.

Given the importance of the matters contemplated, MOT are also running open sessions, together with presentation and Q&A sessions in four key locations (on 20 April in Wellington, 6 May in Auckland, 12 May in Christchurch and 13 May in Queenstown). Submissions must be made to MOT by 21 May 2021.  Details on the sessions being held and instructions on making submissions can be found here.

If you need any help making a submission, please get in touch with us.

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