New law, new rules – new drone rules for New Zealand expected with Civil Aviation Bill 2021 | Denton

The new Civil Aviation Bill (“Bill”) is a major overhaul of New Zealand’s existing civil aviation legislation. The Bill will repeal and replace the Civil Aviation Act 1990 and the Airport Authority Act 1966. The bill is much larger than its predecessors, with 481 clauses and 10 schedules, aimed at providing a platform for civil aviation safety, security and economic regulation.

In particular, the bill contains new provisions relating to the use of drones. When the previous legislation was drafted, drones were non-existent. Today they are widely available for public consumption. In August 2020, there were more than 175,000 drones and nearly 300,000 drone users in new zealand.

New Zealand drone research undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA), Ministry of Transport (MoT) and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have shown that most drones are used for recreational purposes, and unfortunately 25% of users have very little or no idea of ​​the rules for using drones, and 20% of flights can take place in restricted airspace without permission and unshielded.

The rules that 1 in 4 drone users know

The Civil Aviation Act 1990 (“CA Act”) together with the Civil Aviation Rules (“Rules”) currently regulate the use of drones in New Zealand. Unlike other countries, the rules do not distinguish between commercial and recreational use, focusing on safety risks rather than purpose.

Most recreational and commercial drones fall under the definition of “remotely piloted aircraft” (“RPA”), as unmanned aircraft piloted from a remote station and:

  • Includes a radio-controlled model airplane; but
  • Does not include a control airliner model or free flight airplane model

Breaches of the rules can result in fines and jail time. Low-risk RPA operations are governed by Part 101 of the Rules, not requiring formal approval. Operators should only fly drones:

  • During the day
  • Below 120 meters
  • Less than 4km from an aerodrome
  • Within the operator’s field of vision, and
  • With prior authorization (if flying over a person, private property or controlled airspace)

High-risk RPA transactions are governed by Part 102 of the Rules, which contains more stringent requirements.

The Minister of Transport will be required to make new rules that reflect the purpose and requirements of the new law once the bill becomes law.

What does the bill do?

There are four key drone-related changes in the bill:

  1. Pilot in command
    CA law assumes that there is a “pilot-in-command” (“PIC”) “on board” an aircraft, which includes drones. The PIC has ultimate responsibility for flight safety and control, and since there is no PIC on board an RPA, there is no PIC. The bill aims to fill this legal void by extending the definition of PIC to include remote operators who are not physically on board. This expands the duties, powers and obligations of RPA operators and likely means that existing CA offenses and new offenses in the Bill will now also apply to such persons.
  2. Accident defined
    CA law requires parties to notify the Civil Aviation Authority (“CAA”) in the event of an accident involving only manned aircraft. As a result, the CAA’s current ability to investigate and regulate RPA accidents is very limited.

    Appropriately, the bill expands the definition of “accident” include “aircraft intended to be flown unmanned” to address these concerns. Crashes include the time between when the drone is “ready to move for the purpose of flight” and when it comes to rest and the propulsion system shuts down.

  3. New powers (to detain, seize and destroy drones)
    Malicious use of RPAs has been problematic globally, with RPAs violating civil aviation law, causing significant risk and disruption to flight operations.

    The current provisions allow the detention of aircraft, but do not expressly authorize the seizure of an aircraft in violation of the law. For law enforcement to take action against unmanned aircraft, they must rely on their crime prevention and peacekeeping mandate, rather than any statutory authority.

    The bill introduces new RPA response powers for police and CAA response officers, aimed at ensuring the safe and efficient integration of these aircraft into the civil aviation system. Despite submissions from the NZ Airports Association on a 2019 exposure draft, the bill does not allow other industry users to have this power.

    If the bill becomes law in its current state, authorized officers will have the power to seize, detain or destroy RPOs and to obtain a warrant to search the house or the maraes. The officer must believe for reasonable grounds that the conditions for exercising this power are met. The power must be exercised reasonably and using reasonable means (electronic, mechanical or physical) to cause the RPA under the control of the person seizing or detaining it. Any detention or seizure may only last for the time necessary to prevent danger to persons or property or commission of an offense.

  4. Penalties
    The bill increases penalties for dangerous activity to NZ$150,000 for individuals and up to NZ$1.5 million for businesses. For reckless activities, the bill further increases this penalty; individuals face up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to NZ$300,000 and NZ$3 million for companies.

What is the next?

The report of the Committee on Transport and Infrastructure on the Civil Aviation Bill was presented to the House on June 2, 2022, with the recommendation to the House by the majority of the committee that the bill be passed . All amendments were unanimously recommended, and the full list of recommendations relating to the aviation system as a whole can be found here.

The bill is currently at second reading stage, awaiting the House to debate the select committee’s report and vote on the bill.