Drone dilemmas

Picture by Alan Gibson

There was a near-miss between a helicopter and a drone at Gisborne Airport last year.

On January 3, 2018, the pilot of a Robinson 44 reported the near-collision with a drone at 400 feet.

The Gisborne Herald submitted an Official Information Act request to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the incident.

It showed the near-miss occurred in the Gisborne control zone, approximately one nautical mile west of Gisborne Aerodrome.

The helicopter was flying back to the airport from the west.

At the same time, a Phantom 4 Pro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (a UAV, commonly referred to as a drone) was being used to conduct an approved aerial survey of a vineyard within the control zone to the west. There was an operator and a spotter on the ground.

The CAA said the a flight plan for the drone had been lodged through the Airshare web-based platform, which required approval from air traffic control.

The controller at Gisborne Airport approved the flight and was aware of the operation.

The airport controller had cleared the helicopter pilot for landing at its hangar.

The CAA report said the controller phoned the drone spotter about the inbound helicopter, and requested the drone return to the ground.

The controller thought they saw the drone descend behind a tree.

A CAA investigation indicated it was possible what the controller thought was the drone could have been a bird.

“The controller did not tell the helicopter pilot about the UAV as they thought the potential confliction had been resolved.”

As a result of the CAA investigation into the incident, there were “anomalies and inadequacies” found in the ATC documentation of procedures for the management of UAV operations.

“The air traffic service provider conducted a thorough investigation into the event, and actioned a series of corrections and improvements to procedures for managing known UAV flights in controlled airspace.”

Gisborne District Council drone rules:

  • You can fly drones and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) without a permit over council-owned land.
  • As the operator, you still need permission under the Privacy Act from any person on the land.
  • If you want to fly over private property, you must contact the property owner for permission, which can be given verbally. If you can’t get their permission, you need to contact the CAA.
  • You are required to maintain “visual line of sight” with the device.
  • You must not do anything hazardous to persons, property and other aircraft.
  • You can fly only in daylight.
  • You cannot fly higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level.
  • You cannot fly within four kilometres of any aerodrome unless permission from CAA is obtained.
  • To fly in controlled airspace, you must obtain an air traffic control clearance issued by Airways.
  • You must have consent from anyone you want to fly above. If you can’t get their consent, you need permission from the CAA.
  • Examples are a cricket game — you need permission from the local cricket association; the beach — you need permission from everyone on the beach. If you can’t do that, you need permission from the CAA.
  • Rules are on the CAA website. It’s your responsibility and obligation to monitor and comply with all CAA rules.

There was a near-miss between a helicopter and a drone at Gisborne Airport last year.

On January 3, 2018, the pilot of a Robinson 44 reported the near-collision with a drone at 400 feet.

The Gisborne Herald submitted an Official Information Act request to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the incident.

It showed the near-miss occurred in the Gisborne control zone, approximately one nautical mile west of Gisborne Aerodrome.

The helicopter was flying back to the airport from the west.

At the same time, a Phantom 4 Pro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (a UAV, commonly referred to as a drone) was being used to conduct an approved aerial survey of a vineyard within the control zone to the west. There was an operator and a spotter on the ground.

The CAA said the a flight plan for the drone had been lodged through the Airshare web-based platform, which required approval from air traffic control.

The controller at Gisborne Airport approved the flight and was aware of the operation.

The airport controller had cleared the helicopter pilot for landing at its hangar.

The CAA report said the controller phoned the drone spotter about the inbound helicopter, and requested the drone return to the ground.

The controller thought they saw the drone descend behind a tree.

A CAA investigation indicated it was possible what the controller thought was the drone could have been a bird.

“The controller did not tell the helicopter pilot about the UAV as they thought the potential confliction had been resolved.”

As a result of the CAA investigation into the incident, there were “anomalies and inadequacies” found in the ATC documentation of procedures for the management of UAV operations.

“The air traffic service provider conducted a thorough investigation into the event, and actioned a series of corrections and improvements to procedures for managing known UAV flights in controlled airspace.”

Gisborne District Council drone rules:

  • You can fly drones and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) without a permit over council-owned land.
  • As the operator, you still need permission under the Privacy Act from any person on the land.
  • If you want to fly over private property, you must contact the property owner for permission, which can be given verbally. If you can’t get their permission, you need to contact the CAA.
  • You are required to maintain “visual line of sight” with the device.
  • You must not do anything hazardous to persons, property and other aircraft.
  • You can fly only in daylight.
  • You cannot fly higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level.
  • You cannot fly within four kilometres of any aerodrome unless permission from CAA is obtained.
  • To fly in controlled airspace, you must obtain an air traffic control clearance issued by Airways.
  • You must have consent from anyone you want to fly above. If you can’t get their consent, you need permission from the CAA.
  • Examples are a cricket game — you need permission from the local cricket association; the beach — you need permission from everyone on the beach. If you can’t do that, you need permission from the CAA.
  • Rules are on the CAA website. It’s your responsibility and obligation to monitor and comply with all CAA rules.

Took off and never came back

A Gisborne fisherman was waiting for fish to bite when his drone suddenly took off on its own and never came back.

He and family members were using the drone to deliver baited hooks and sinkers out to sea.

They were fishing by the beacon on Centennial Marine Drive over summer last year.

“I knew I shouldn’t have been there but the drone wasn’t flying very high, only at about 20 feet, and it just hovered, he said.

“You’ve got to keep it low. If you fly it too high the seagulls get the bait.”

The group was having a couple of beers and waiting for the fish to bite, with the drone back on the beach.

“It then just upped and offed on its own. It just flew away. I couldn’t even switch it off on the remote control to kill it.

“We saw it going straight over the speedway club towards the airport. We were laughing. Then we weren’t laughing when it was gone and never came back.”

The fisherman wondered if the airport had logged into the drone, taken control of it and called it into the airport.

It was a Phantom 2 model worth about $1500.

The fisherman did not make an insurance claim as his excess was too high.

“We still don’t know what happened — if it was hijacked or if the drone just had a mind of its own.”

A Google search showed drones could be illegally hacked and the controls taken over.

It could also have malfunctioned.

The Civil Aviation Authority said airports cannot take control of drones and call them in.

They don’t have the technology and would also be breaching civil aviation rules, as it would constitute interfering with an aircraft.

A Gisborne Airport spokeswoman agreed. There was no way Gisborne Airport could or would do this, she said.

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