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77,600 drones and counting

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 18 July 2019, 5:31 pm

There are a surprisingly large number of drones in New Zealand - with around 77,600 drones operating and 200,000 drones used by foreign tourists in the past year. Compare these numbers to the estimated 5000 piloted aircraft, and you begin to see the need for regulatory oversight.

The Government has this week released a paper called Taking Flight: An aviation system for the automated age, which sets out how to approach 'drone integration."

"New Zealand is a world leader in the unmanned aircraft (drones) sector due to our good reputation as a safety regulator, our 'open for business' mentality and our risk-based regulatory regime," the report's introduction reads.

"We want to retain these advantages and remain at the forefront of drone development by ensuring our approach to drone operations harnesses the many opportunities they bring while addressing the challenges."

According to the report, drone use is worth $7.9 billion to the economy over the next 25 years. Examples of how they will contribute to New Zealand's transport system are rural freight and goods delivery, passenger carrying drones, and assisting the emergency services. The key, however, is to enable safe drone operation beyond the line of sight of the pilot or operator, and this can't really happen without rules in place.

"Integration is an iterative and phased process as we work to address the challenges presented by safety, security (physical and cyber), privacy and enforcement. Of particular importance is national security as drones can be used to conduct illegal activity (noting that not all illegal acts are a threat to national security). The risk of these types of operations needs to be appropriately managed by having practices in place to limit instances of illegal activity and stopping them quickly if they occur."

In the early stages of integration "rigid enforcement of spatial separation between aircraft will be necessary" but over time this is likely to change as "detect and avoid" technology is developed and becomes more sophisticated.

A cross-government programme of work has been established and will be overseen by the UA Leadership Group which is made up of officials from the Ministry of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority, Airways and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. 

There are four building blocks to establishing the right environment - regulation, funding and investment, infrastructure and technology, and research and development. Just who will fund this work is still to be determined but likely sources are local and central government, drone operators, third party or public private partnership.

Get it right and the rewards could be huge if New Zealand is positioned at the forefront of an international industry. "We also have the opportunity to influence the global direction on drone operations and should be deliberate about which international standards we want to influence to help us achieve our vision."

You can check out the report here




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