UAS, UAV, RPA , Drone – Call it what you will

Unmanned aircraft systems, unmanned aerial vehicles ("UAVs"), remotely piloted aircraft, drones, call them what you will, whether it be a Global Hawk with a wingspan greater than a 737 or a small hexacopter bought over the internet, UAS are changing our lives. Reports relating to the use of drones, whether for military purposes, surveillance operations, photography and film making, agricultural uses or even pizza deliveries, now regularly feature in the press.

As with most new technologies, the increasing development of the unmanned aircraft brings with it new risks and challenges and hence the need for new regulation. Many issues arise, ranging from the practical need to ensure safe separation between manned and remotely operated aircraft, through to the individual’s right to privacy. As with all new technologies the law will take time to evolve. The rules vary greatly in different parts of the world as regulators come to grips with this increasingly used technology.

A number of different pilotless aircraft are now manufactured and/or operated in New Zealand. What then is the current state of regulation in New Zealand?

Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules regulates the use of Gyrogliders and Parasails; Unmanned Balloons; Kites; Rockets and, importantly for present purposes, Model Aircraft.

A "Model Aircraft” is defined as "…a pilotless aircraft with a gross mass of between 100g to 25kg…”. Small UAVs will this fall within this definition. Within that range, model aircraft between 15kg and 25kg gross mass can’t be operated unless constructed and operated under the authority of a model aircraft association approved by the Director of Civil Aviation. Registration of such aircraft under Part 47 of the Rules is not required but they must not to be operated in a manner that creates a hazard to other aircraft, persons or property. There are also various other restrictions, including the times, places, altitudes and weather conditions in which "Model Aircraft” may be operated. In some cases there are restrictions on the persons who may operate such aircraft and requirements for oversight by a model aircraft association approved by the Director.

Part 19 of the Rules applies to larger pilotless aircraft with a gross mass greater than 25kg. Operation of such aircraft requires the specific written approval of the Director, who may impose such conditions on the operator as the Director thinks necessary in the interests of safety.

For further information contact Karl Stolberger Partner

Image creative commons licenced by Frederic Rivollier.

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