Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

An NZALPA drone update

NZALPA’s Senior Technical Officer Dave Reynolds reviews recent drone developments, here and overseas.

Senior Technical Officer Dave Reynolds.

Increasingly sophisticated and accessible drone technology and the growing number of operators with little or no prior aviation experience continue to challenge all of us within the industry. 

The government and the Ministry of Transport (MoT) here in New Zealand are also feeling the challenge of striking a balance between the development, introduction and use of drones; and the risks associated with their operation. Many governments around the globe are finding this balance an increasingly complex challenge.

If we take off our aviation hats for a moment and think a little more of the bigger picture, we also see some fairly significant high-level challenges which are not aviation specific. 

If you have found yourself sitting at a coffee table or reception area of a MoT or other governmental office in Wellington, you may well have come across a document called ‘Taking Flight: An aviation system for the automated age’ which is our government’s drone integration paper. On page three you might be a little surprised to read that “New Zealand is a world leader in the unmanned aircraft (drones) sector.” 

If you had been in a similar office in the UK you would have picked up ‘Taking Flight: The future of drones in the UK’. On page four of that document you would read that “The United Kingdom is a global leader in innovation and emerging technologies and is at the forefront of a rapidly-developing drone market.” Vaguely familiar?

Governments globally are vying for their country to be seen as the place where those at the leading edge of the development and operation of drones should come and to do just that. If you are in any doubt as to why, check out the June 2019 report of the ‘Drones: Benefits Study’ for New Zealand, commissioned by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. It’s an eye opening introduction to some of the perceived potential benefits of drones to our economy.

Former NZALPA President and now IFALPA Director, Tim Robinson, and I recently met the MoT Policy Team in Wellington. 

  • We discussed some of the high level issues from an NZALPA standpoint, such as: 
  • The challenges and opportunities presented - current and future 
  • The MoT/government’s early thinking on possible regulatory measures 
  • Concepts and ideas that might best suit operations here in New Zealand, and
  • What drone operation rules should apply, and to whom. 

We drilled down into some of the mitigations and controls that NZALPA, other stakeholders and the MoT/government themselves - have indicated might have merit:

  • Registration, operator competency and training 
  • Physical and electronic identification of drones (i.e. remotely - think ADS-B) 
  • Geo fencing/electronic denial of access to certain areas 
  • Controls on purchasing and importing, and on visitors to New Zealand who operate drones 
  • Fines and potential consequences relating to non-compliant drone operations. 

In terms of mitigation and control it is interesting to compare how we are doing compared to other countries facing these same challenges. The United States, for instance, is unsurprisingly way ahead of most. Its registration and online training regimes are well and truly established with many beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS, operations now approved for commercial operations. Most other countries such as Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the European Union permit varying levels of operation, controlled by varying levels of regulation. However, there are themes across these countries which will be very familiar to NZALPA members and others aware of our views: registration, weight categorisation, training/competency testing, physical/electronic marking/conspicuity, age limits for operators, fines for non-compliance and controls for overseas visitors. 

The user pays concept is also a common concept overseas. While there is merit in having surcharges for commercial operations, in the same way that there are for conventional aviation, exemptions will probably also be required, and model aircraft club members appear to be good candidates for exemption.

It was refreshing to see that the Ministry is now taking a more realistic approach to the challenges of introducing these devices, with our recent dealings with officials at last showing promise. 

Next steps will be formal consultation at some point, once the MoT has finished this round of discussions with stakeholders. Further focus groups and meetings may well precede or be part of this. You can be assured that NZALPA will continue to engage in the process with government and other stakeholders to ensure the safe integration of drones into New Zealand skies.



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