New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority Seeks Stricter Rules for Hobby Drone Pilots

With drones now more ubiquitous and tourists ignorant of the regional drone laws, the CAA is weighing its options on how to curb irresponsible use.

byMarco Margaritoff|
New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority Seeks Stricter Rules for Hobby Drone Pilots


In the United States, the Commercial Drone Alliance has prompted federal lawmakers to regulate recreational drone users with the same stringency that their commercial counterparts have been facing. Halfway across the world, the very same debate is currently in progress. According to Radio New Zealand, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is considering harsher rules for hobby drone pilots, as the yearly influx of 200,000 drone tourists and New Zealand’s own 280,000 unmanned aerial vehicle pilots have contributed to some disconcerting, irresponsible use. 

At a seminar in Nelson, a city in the South Island of New Zealand, aviation industry experts and commercial drone pilots met to discuss key points in federal policy and drone regulation. The CAA’s senior technical specialist, Mark Houston, is confident that the same rules intended for commercial drone operators may soon apply to hobby pilots, as well. In his mind, there have simply been too many incidents in popular areas of the country not to warrant some reconsideration of the status quo.

“I was in Tekapo recently and they were having tremendous issues with drones being flown around the wee church on the lakeshore there,” he said. “There were people trying to fly in through the doors and things like that.” He added that some tourists do, actually, research the regional drone laws before brazenly operating their UAVs with utter disregard. Naturally, there’s no way to ensure complete adherence to the rules when you have 200,000 drone-happy tourists visiting each year, except, perhaps, harsher penalties for misuse. 

Most recently, the CAA launched a new campaign to both inform citizens and tourists of the country’s drone laws, as well as facilitate the reporting of irresponsible or illegal drone use for anyone who observes it. Jeremy Sharp from Airways New Zealand, at least, considers it paramount to curb this kind of behavior from escalating. “You’ve got something that weights three or four kilograms doing 50 [kph],” he said. “It could take someone’s head off, or take a car off the road. So they are potentially very hazardous.”

Air New Zealand, if you recall, contributed to the outcry on behalf of the country’s aviation agencies and experts earlier this year in asking the government to put some harsher penalties in place. As it stands, experts like Sharp are eager for the CAA to make a decision, in order to then effectively adapt to the new standards. “As air traffic controllers we can only apply the procedures applicable to the rules, but we don’t make the rules, so we have to wait for the regulator (CAA) to create the regulatory framework that we can then develop our procedures, and to keep it safe.” 

For Ken McMillan of Service IQ, an aviation industry training organization, the exponential technological growth of devices such as the modern drone has simply outpaced the conventional rules in place to manage said devices. “When the drone phenomenon took off everyone raced in and tried to organize everything, but the magnitude of drone flying has outgrown qualifications, if you like, so what we’ve had in the past is really, really outdated.” 

Ultimately, New Zealand is simply undergoing that grueling and arduous task of bringing together experts in the industry to have an honest discussion on how to manage and control domestic drone use. In the U.S., the UAS Integration Pilot Program, a federal initiative under which the Federal Aviation Administration authorizes certain companies and territories to thoroughly test various drone technologies, is attempting to establish some rules and regulations for the future, as well. 

While the U.K. has seen a dramatic increase in near-misses between commercial aircraft and hobby drones, Germany hasn’t quite experienced that issue as much as authorities initially expected. The issues vary from territory to territory, but one variable remains the same, cohesive and effective drone regulations are essential if a nationwide drone system is to be put in place.