Dangerous drones could be shot down under new law

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Dangerous drones could be shot down under new law

Anti-drone equipment seen at Gatwick Airport following a day of disruption caused by drone sightings.

A proposed law change would make it legal to shoot down drones in special circumstances.

The Government is currently consulting on changes to the Civil Aviation Act. One proposal is to allow drones to be detained, seized and destroyed in extreme situations.

Pilots and airports complain that current rules are lax as they treat drones equally to planes carrying people, making them almost impossible to bring down even when they pose a safety risk.

Advice to Transport Minister Phil Twyford on the changes warns the system must be designed carefully so it doesn't encourage "reckless or disproportionate" behaviour.

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Drones were effectively a "protected species" under the existing rules, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Airports Association Kevin Ward said.

Airports could treat drones similarly to birds or other pests that can interfere with flights, he said.

Official advice to Twyford released under the OIA warned that drones posed a "significant" problem to aviation, noting that a suspected drone was responsible for London's Gatwick airport being effectively shut down for three days in 2018. The incident grounded almost 1000 flights and was estimated to have cost the British economy £50 million (NZ$95m).

Officials have suggested several methods to down drones, ranging from nets to sophisticated radiofrequency jamming or interception. Overseas, trained falcons have also been used, although that was not one of the Transport Ministry's recommendations.

Menacing drones could soon be shot out of the sky under new laws.

Twyford said that drones presented an economic opportunity, but that risks needed to be managed.

"The emerging drone sector presents an opportunity for New Zealand, with the potential economic benefit of the technology being estimated at $1.3 billion per year. However, the integration of drones into the existing aviation system presents obvious safety risks," Twyford said.

"Safety is our Government's top transport priority and with drones being already used in New Zealand, we know we need to modernise our laws and give our law enforcement agencies the powers they need to stop drones when they are being used maliciously.

"I'm sure the vast majority of users want drones that put people in unsafe situations to be grounded".

The Government hasn't yet decided who will be given the right to bring down the drones. A Ministry of Transport official told Stuff the powers could be given to trained Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) employees or the police.

Pilots argue there is a significant risk that a drone could bring down an aircraft if it were sucked into a jet turbine. Airports are often forced to halt flights if drones are spotted flying nearby.

Last November a drone flying close to Wellington Airport was described as "life threatening" by New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association president Tim Robinson.

"Depending on the size of the drone, collision with an aircraft could be catastrophic, especially with smaller aircrafts and light aircrafts like helicopters. They can bring those aircrafts down if it's a direct hit.

"Any operation of the drones close to the airport, obviously where there's a lot of movement, is potentially life-threatening," Robinson said.

There have been multiple drone incidents at New Zealand airports, including airforce bases.

A study commissioned by the CAA estimated there were 280,000 New Zealand resident drone users, with another 200,000 people from overseas using drones here each year.

The Government hopes to introduce a final bill in the next year and have it passed before the 2020 election.


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