Operators question Air NZ drone claim

  • 27/09/2015
Operators question Air NZ drone claim

Drone operators are questioning what an Air New Zealand pilot may have seen which led the airline to complain lives were put at risk on a flight out of Christchurch.

Air NZ says no evasive action was need on Friday afternoon when the pilot, flying an Airbus A320 with 166 people aboard, believed he spotted a red drone at 6000 feet above Kaiapoi, well above a 400ft limit.

However, it was "reckless behaviour" by a drone operator who has so far "not had the courage to come forward and address their behaviour with authorities", said safety officer Captain David Morgan.

But some commercial drone operators are sceptical.

Jared Waddams, owner of Christchurch's Helicam Pro, says he has been monitoring industry chat rooms about the incident.

"The general sense is the pilot doesn't know what he's talking about or has some kind of agenda to get rid of drones," he told NZ Newswire.

Anything reaching 6000ft was "a pretty serious machine" but no local commercial drones were coloured red - and it definitely would not be a "kid's drone", which couldn't reach that height, he said.

Anyone who had certification to fly that high would immediately contact air traffic control if their machine went astray.

He also questioned whether a pilot could spot a drone at 6000ft.

Mr Waddams said it could possibly have been a microlight, a rogue surf kite or a remote-control model aeroplane.

There were a lot of myths about aircraft hitting drones but they were no more scary than birdstrikes, he said.

Tim Brooks, director of Palmerston North-based Skycam UAV, says camera drones can only get useful images between 200 and 400ft and there's absolutely no reason for them to fly at 6000ft.

"There's nothing up there," he told NZ Newswire.

"I am not the pilot, I can't comment on what he did or didn't see, but it seems very, very odd that a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] would be at that altitude."

Most in the drone industry were very careful about sticking to the rules, he said.

The Civil Aviation Authority says it is treating the incident as a near miss and is investigating. It is assuming the drone pilot was unaware of new rules which came into effect last month.