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New Zealand: New Rules on Drones Come into Effect

(July 31, 2015) On August 1, 2015, new and amended Civil Aviation Rules on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) came into effect in New Zealand. The rules, which were developed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the Civil Aviation Act 1990, were approved by the Associate Minister of Transport on April 8, 2015. (Notification of Ordinary Rules (May 7, 2015), 47 NEW ZEALAND GAZETTE 2706; Civil Aviation Act 1990, New Zealand Legislation website.) The CAA stated that the changes are part of its interim approach to regulating unmanned aircraft and “strike a balance between safety and enabling operations.” (Press Release, CAA, New Civil Aviation Rules for Unmanned Aircraft Operations Come into Force (July 23, 2015), CAA website.)

Amended Civil Aviation Rules Part 101

Civil Aviation Rules Part 101, which was originally designed to regulate traditional model aircraft, has been amended to allow operators of unmanned aircraft to operate their aircrafts without needing to seek CAA approval, as long as “they remain strictly within the operating limits” prescribed in the Part. (Id.) To come within Part 101, unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds); aircraft between 15 kilograms and 25 kilograms must be inspected and approved by an approved organization and operated under its authority. (Civil Aviation Rules Part 101, Gyrogliders and Parasails, Unmanned Aircraft (including Balloons), Kites, and Rockets – Operating Rules, Amendment 6 (Apr. 8, 2015), r 101.215, CAA website.) Currently, the only organization authorized to approve such small model or other unmanned aircraft is Model Flying New Zealand, the national association of RPAS/model aircraft enthusiasts. (RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft, CAA website (last visited July 29, 2015).)

The Rules include:

  • restrictions on operating unmanned aircraft within a military operating area, other designated areas, and low-flying zones;
  • a requirement to “take all practicable steps” to minimize hazards to persons, property, and other aircraft;
  • restrictions on operating an aircraft in areas or conditions where a person’s view is obstructed, with the operator being required to maintain a visual line of sight with the aircraft;
  • a requirement that the operator not operate unmanned aircraft outside at night and not fly such aircraft at any height above 400 feet (subject to certain exceptions and notification requirements); and
  • a requirement that operators ensure that their aircraft remain clear of all manned aircraft both on the ground and in flight. (Civil Aviation Rules Part 101, Amendment 6, rr 101.7, 101.9, 101.13, 101.207, 101.209, 101.211, & 101.213.)

One of the amendments to the Part is a requirement that operators of unmanned aircraft obtain consent from persons and property owners before flying the aircraft over them or their property. (Id. r 101.207.) The CAA is encouraging public land owners to be “proactive,” suggesting that they erect signs at the entrance to parks stating whether unmanned aircraft are permitted there or not. (New Drone Rules Unveiled, NEW ZEALAND HERALD (July 23, 2015).)

New Civil Aviation Rules Part 102

The new Civil Aviation Rules Part 102 requires those who wish to conduct unmanned aircraft operations that exceed the operating limits in Part 101 to obtain a certificate from the CAA. According to the CAA, due to the lack of established standards in the sector, the interim approach is to have “minimal prescription” in the applicable rules, with operating requirements for unmanned aircraft instead “determined for each application on a case by case basis.” (Pending Rules, CAA (last visited July 29, 2015) [Note: this webpage, which appeared as a temporary site, may no longer be accessible].) The new rules require, for example, “anyone who wants to operate a UAV at night, beyond line of sight or above 400 feet to get certification.” (Press Release, Simon Bridges & Craig Foss, New World-Class Framework for UAVs (July 23, 2015), BEEHIVE.GOVT.NZ.)

In order to be granted an operator’s certificate, an applicant must have conducted an adequate assessment of the safety risk posed by conducting the proposed unmanned aircraft operations. The applicant must also have developed procedures to adequately manage any risks and ensure the operation is conducted safely. (Civil Aviation Rules Part 102, Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certification (Apr. 8, 2015), r 102.1, CAA website.)

The Rules specify the matters that must be addressed in an “exposition” that is submitted to the Director of the CAA. (Id. r 102.11.) When granting a certificate, the Director may impose requirements and specify procedures to be followed by the operator. (Id. r 102.13.) Certificates will include an “operations specification” that records certain information about the operator and the operations he or she is permitted to perform. (Id. r 102.15.) Certificates may be granted for a period of up to five years and may be renewed. (Id. rr 102.19 & 102.25.) The CAA has published a sample exposition to demonstrate what should be included in an operator’s application. (Sample Exposition: CAR Part 102 Unmanned Aircraft Operators Certificate, Document Version 0, CAA website (July 29, 2015).)

Breaches of Civil Aviation Rules are investigated by the CAA and may result in a fine, a written warning, or prosecution under Part 5 of the Civil Aviation Act 1990.

Use of Drones in New Zealand

The Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, noted that “UAVs are increasingly popular in a wide variety of operations, including scientific research, agriculture, fire-fighting, film and video production, as well as search and rescue.” (New CAA Drone Rules Welcomed, NEW ZEALAND HERALD (July 25, 2015).) For example, it was recently reported that a courier company in Auckland had partnered with an Australian UAV company to create an aerial delivery service, with the first drone parcel delivery trial taking place in Auckland in June 2015. The news report stated, “New Zealand has become a key testing ground for the drones because of its favourable legislation and a relatively uncrowded airspace.” (Matthew Theunissen, Parcel Delivery by Drone, NEW ZEALAND HERALD (June 21, 2015).) The Associate Minister, Craig Foss, stated in announcing the new rules that he hopes “to see more businesses embracing unmanned aircraft and the opportunities they present, including the ability to simplify operations, save time and money, and offer new services — the sky’s the limit.” (New World-Class Framework for UAVs, supra.)

According to news Reports citing information provided by the CAA, in 2011 there was just one incident involving drones reported to the CAA, but there were 27 incidents in 2014 and there have been 53 since the start of 2015. (New CAA Drone Rules Welcomed, supra; New Drone Rules Unveiled, supra.) While the exact number of unmanned aircraft operating in New Zealand is not known, the CAA has reported that it receives 50 inquiries per week relating to their use. (New CAA Drone Rules Welcomed, supra.)

Privacy Concerns

The office of the Privacy Commissioner recently published a blog post on its first privacy complaint related to the use of drone technology. A man complained that a drone operated by a television company came close to his apartment, which is located near a sports stadium. The drone operator stated that the recording equipment on the drone was not turned on at the time; therefore the complaint was dismissed by the Privacy Commissioner, as there had been no breach of privacy. (Sam Grover, Droning on Drones, PRIVACY COMMISSIONER (July 6, 2015).) The post notes, however, the CAA’s rule changes on the need to obtain permission from people who will be affected by a drone’s use. (Id.)

The CAA website points out that the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines on CCTV use also apply to many situations in which unmanned aircraft are used. (RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft – Privacy, CAA (last visited July 31, 2015).) An earlier blog post by the office of the Privacy Commissioner provided further information on the potential application of privacy legislation and other statutes to drone use. (Charles Mabbett, Game of Drones, PRIVACY COMMISSIONER (Jan. 21, 2015).)