Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand needs to stop spreading misinformation related to drones – sUAS News
By Dr Isaac Henderson
When we think of the spread of misinformation, we tend to think about conspiracy theories that make their way around social media. Our Prime Minister recently highlighted her view that online misinformation is a threat that negatively affects New Zealand. Despite her strong views on the topic, it appears that the message hasn’t filtered down into every government agency.
The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAANZ) has been promulgating misinformation regarding the rules for unmanned aircraft (commonly called drones) for some time now; on their website, in Facebook advertisements, and in the print materials that they ask retailers to distribute when they sell a drone. Objections raised by users, training providers, and industry bodies have fallen on deaf ears and been dismissed by the CAANZ’s staff as non-issues.
As someone who is a lecturer and researcher in the field of unmanned aerospace, and as a consultant and Chair of an industry body, I believe it is time for this poor behaviour to be called out for the sake of aviation safety.
Part of the reason the CAANZ gets away with spreading misinformation is because the public sees regulators like the CAANZ as being knowledgeable and reputable organisations that are staffed by experts in their field. Therefore, when information is presented from a regulator, it is unlikely to be questioned as to whether it is true and accurate. For the CAANZ in particular, there is also the complicating factor that most members of the public do not have to interface with the authority and likely have limited understanding of the Civil Aviation Rules (CARs) and how these regulate aviation safety.
To understand how misinformation is being spread by the CAANZ and the consequences that this could have for aviation safety, it is first necessary to explain some of the rules applicable to unmanned aircraft and how these are being presented. New Zealand has two sets of CARs that regulate unmanned aircraft operations (alongside more general CARs that regulate all aviation participants). CAR Part 101 is essentially a set of general operating rules that allow anyone to buy a drone and fly it so long as they can comply with the CAR Part 101 requirements. These requirements include minimum distances from airports, altitude limits, consent requirements for flight over people and property, and so on. If an organisation needs to go beyond those requirements and conduct a more complex operation, then they can apply for certification under Part 102 of the CARs, which allows organisations to make risk-based arguments for how they can conduct such operations in a safe manner.
CAR Part 101 does have a lot of nuances within it, which is why training organisations spend two to three days explaining its provisions to students. For example, at face value you cannot fly within four kilometres of an aerodrome under CAR Part 101. However, that only applies to promulgated aerodromes (those in the Aeronautical Information Publication), excluding most top-dressing strips, private helipads, and so on. Even with that caveat, you can fly within four kilometres of a promulgated aerodrome if you hold a recognised pilot qualification, have a spotter, and obtain agreement from the aerodrome operator (or clearance from Air Traffic Control if it is a controlled aerodrome). If you don’t have a recognised pilot qualification, then you can still fly within four kilometres of an aerodrome, so long as you are shielded (flying below the highest object within 100m of the operation), where there is also a barrier between the drone and the airport (…….