As drones become a much more familiar sight buzzing over public events, commercial premises or around homes and parks, it’s wise to remember that these are not just toys but are legally considered to be a type of aircraft – albeit unmanned – having to abide by rules and regulations as set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). These rules were recently updated to keep pace with the changing technology and there are hefty consequences if you break them, including fines of up to $5,000 for an individual and $30,000 for a body corporate.

The term ‘unmanned aircraft’ can apply to remotely piloted aircraft (including model aeroplanes and helicopters), balloons, rockets and drones. There is an increasing use of remotely piloted aircraft for commercial reasons – such as for taking video or photos of commercial premises, events or photos for real estate use.

To find out all the Civil Aviation Authority rules go to their website www.caa.govt.nz. In this article we’ll deal with just one section of the rules – the relevant provisions of Part 101 – which applies to remotely piloted aircraft (referred to as RPA).

These rules apply when your aircraft weighs less than 25kg and you’ll be flying it during the day, below 400 feet (120 metres). If you wish to operate above 400ft, at night or if your RPA weighs more than 25kg then you will need to refer to the provisions of Part 102.

RPAs on private and public land

If you will be flying your RPA on private land which is more than 4km from an aerodrome then you must obtain the prior consent of the land owner, keep sight of your RPA at all times (i.e. the RPA must not be flown into cloud) and maintain a lookout for other aircraft. Consent must also be obtained from the owner of any public area such as a park.

Aerodrome rules

You must not operate the RPA within 4km of any aerodrome unless you have an appropriate pilot qualification, or are under the direct supervision of someone who holds the appropriate pilot qualification. This requirement is to ensure that the operator and/or supervisor have knowledge of the airspace restrictions.

Even with that qualification, for an uncontrolled aerodrome you will also need to firstly get permission from the aerodrome, have an observer with each person who is piloting the aircraft and you cannot fly higher than 400 feet above ground, unless this has been specifically approved by the Director of the CAA.

If you’re intending to fly your RPA within 4km of a controlled aerodrome, prior permission must be obtained from Air Traffic Control.

Privacy is paramount

And finally, and of key importance to all those taking photos of properties or people for business use, you must get prior consent from any people you will fly over – specially if you are intending to take videos or photos, as this could constitute a breach of privacy.