Another Corner of the World Heard From: New Zealand

We wrote earlier this week about the bold changes made by Canada to their UAS regulatory framework.  Not to be outdone, New Zealand has just issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for their new commercial UAS regulations and they are, if anything, even less restrictive.

Late last year, the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) decided that while it was working on the NPRM, they would allow all commercial operators to fly small UAS (i.e. under 25 kilograms) without any certification or piloting requirements, so long as they restricted their flights to the same areas and conditions that applied to hobbyists.  The CAA’s experience with this system over the past year must have been a good one, because the new rules are very similar to the existing ad hoc system of regulation.

The NPRM completely rejects the distinction between commercial and non-commercial operators and instead is focused solely on the “safety risk” of the flight.  Flights that are “low risk” must follow the existing general restrictions of Part 101.1, while higher risk operations will require a certificate under the newly added Part 102.

A low-risk operation is classified as one that involves a UAV that weighs less than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and where the operator has a clear line-of-sight to the UAV, it is operated more than 4 km from an aerodrome, keeps clear of class C, D, and E airspace, and outside any area with flight restrictions such as a natural disaster area.  In addition, the operator must take “all practicable steps to minimize the hazards to persons, property and other aircraft” by keeping clear of persons or property who have not given their consent and maintaining a look-out for other aircraft.  If the operator stays within these guidelines and has knowledge of how the New Zealand National Airspace is organized, no certification is needed from the CAA. If the UAS weighs between 15 kg and 25 kg, it can still be operated under the general guidelines of Part 101, the only additional requirement is that the UAS has to be approved by a recognized model aircraft club or other entity authorized by the Director of Civil Aviation.  Interestingly New Zealand has become one of the first countries to permit pilots to use first person view (FPV) technology so long as there is also an observer for the flight that can see the aircraft with his unaided eyes, and is in communication with the pilot.

If a person wants to fly a UAV that weighs more than 25 kg, or does not want to comply with the restrictions under Part 101, they must have an operators certificate.  The requirements for this certificate are very similar to the information that must be submitted to get a Section 333 exemption in the United States or a Special Flight Operations Certificate in Canada.  The applicant must provide details as to the types of operation, an assessment of potential hazards, operating requirements, details about the aircraft and its control systems, maintenance programs, as well as all how any potential hazards will be mitigated.  The CAA will then issue an Operations Specification that will identify the conditions under which the flights may be conducted.

While these restrictions are loose, New Zealand is taking enforcement seriously.  The NPRM also includes a six page appendix with a complete schedule of offenses and appropriate fines for violators of the new rules, ranging room $1,000 per offense up to $30,000 per offense, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

With these new rules, New Zealand will establish itself as one of, if not the most, UAS business friendly country in the world.  Of course, with a population of only 4.5 million (just a little over 1% of the United States population), UAS integration is a lot simpler there than here in the United States.

(Originally posted December 16, 2014)

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