DRONE pilots may be endangering lives on the Te Anau lakefront, but the Southland District Council (SDC) has been slow to respond, Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager Lloyd Matheson says.
Tourists, in particular, were continually flying drones too close to the company’s helipad on Lakefront Dr, Mr Matheson said.
There had been three near-collisions which would “almost certainly have resulted in fatalities” had the drones struck the helicopters, he said.
The latest near-miss was three months ago when a drone narrowly avoided striking the tail rotor of a helicopter carrying six passengers. Had the drone struck the tail rotor, “that would have sent [the helicopter] out of control and crashing into a second helicopter. Both helicopters had six passengers each, plus pilots, so that’s 14 people. [Parts from such a collision] probably would have taken people out along the waterfront too, so the consequences would have been catastrophic,” he said.
Mr Matheson said there were rules around the use of drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”, or UAVs) in New Zealand set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but tourists, in particular, didn’t bother to read the website they were on.
A CAA spokeswoman said people were not supposed to fly drones within 4km of a helipad.
Witnesses should report such incidences to the CAA or police, she said.
Offenders could be prosecuted and fined up to $5000.
However, under CAA rules local councils have been able to set policies for the use of drones on council-owned land or property since August 2015.
The Department of Conservation banned the use of drones along its tracks in Fiordland National Park in January last year.
SDC representative for Te Anau Cr Ebel Kremer said he became aware of the lakefront issue at the end of the last tourist season.
Mr Kremer had spoken with Mr Matheson and a process was under way to determine what kind of warning signage, instructing people of the dangers of flying drones near the helipad, the SDC could install.
The SDC also adopted a policy on the use of drones on council-owned land and property at a meeting last week.
The Invercargill City Council established its policy on drones in December 2015.
Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty said there had been two reported incidents of unauthorised drone activity in the airport’s airspace during the past two years.
“What we are asking people to do is take 10 minutes to have a look at how they can fly a drone safely, so that it doesn’t cause an issue for any other airspace users,” Mr Finnerty said.
He recommended www.airshare.co.nz as the best place for drone users to find information.
Invercargill City Council Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Policy
- Council permission required before unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can be used on council-owned land or reserves
- Consent will be granted without the need to apply where operation of the UAV occurs within designated areas, subject to compliance with all Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Air Traffic Control requirements, no other recreational activity being undertaken in the area at the time and the operation only undertaken between the hours of dawn to dusk and the UAV being within sight of operator at all times
- For other council-controlled land, consent may be granted to operate a UAV for a specific purpose and timeframe. Applications made to the Director of Works and Services
- A no-fly zone applies over a large part of Invercargill due to proximity to Invercargill Airport. UAV operators need to check with the Invercargill Airport control tower before using their devices
- UAV operators must adhere to all CAA rules on the use of their aircraft
- Breaches of this policy or the CAA rules could lead to a fine, written warning, or prosecution by the CAA
UAVs can be operated in designated areas within the following council reserves without the need for consent:
- Argyle Park, Bluff
- Donovan Park
- Elizabeth Park
- Makarewa Domain
- McQuarrie Park
- Myross Bush Domain
- Waikiwi Domain
To find out the designated areas and for more information, go to www.icc.govt.nz