Introduction to New Zealand Drone Rules: Key Regulations and Compliance Tips - Drone Trust | New Zealand

Introduction to New Zealand Drone Rules: Key Regulations and Compliance Tips

Flying a drone in New Zealand can be both exciting and rewarding, but it's essential to start with a clear understanding of the rules.

In New Zealand, you don't necessarily need a licence to fly a drone so long as you follow Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules. These rules are designed to ensure the safety of the pilot, other people, and other aircraft. Part 101 includes several important regulations, such as keeping your drone below 120 metres and requirements if you intend to fly over people or property without permission away from controlled airspace.

Flying a drone is a responsibility; pilots must minimise hazards and maintain safety. Understanding these rules will help ensure a safe and enjoyable flying experience in New Zealand.

Understanding New Zealand's Aviation Authority

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) manages aviation safety, including drone operations. They handle enforcement of rules, certification, and overall safety.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ensures that all aviation activities, including drone use, comply with safety standards.

They create and enforce Civil Aviation Rules to maintain safety in New Zealand's airspace. Their tasks include inspecting aircraft, overseeing flight operations, and making sure pilots and drones meet necessary regulations.

Additionally, the CAA provides safety guidelines and information through their website, publications, and direct communications. By managing these aspects, the CAA helps prevent accidents and incidents, making the skies safer for everyone.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Creating and enforcing aviation rules.
  • Conducting safety inspections.
  • Providing safety and training guidelines.

Drone Certification Process

To fly a drone in New Zealand, operators must follow specific rules. If operating under the standard Part 101 rules, no special certification is needed.

Part 101 rules cover basic operation, which is usually sufficient for most recreational pilots.

If additional privileges are required, such as flying in restricted areas or over people and property without permission, a Part 102 certificate is necessary - more on this later.

To fly under Part 102 rules, the drone operator must also hold an organisational 102 certificate (UAOC). This requires the submission of a detailed application, including safety plans and operational procedures, which is then followed by a comprehensive review and certification by the CAA to ensure safety measures are met.

Certification Steps in a Nutshell:

  1. Review Requirements: Check if operations fall under Part 101 or need Part 102.
  2. Application Submission: Provide detailed safety and operational plans.
  3. CAA Assessment: The CAA reviews and approves the application if criteria are met.
  4. Issuing of UAOC: Unmanned Aerial Operators Certificate

Operational Rules for Drones

Drone operators in New Zealand must follow specific rules to ensure safety, privacy, and compliance with the law. These rules cover permissions required for flight, respect for privacy and property, and restricted zones where drones cannot fly.

Flight Permissions

Part 101 covers basic guidelines for flight, and anyone able to follow these rules will not require certification: 

  • Do not fly over people without their permission
  • Do not fly over property without landowner’s permission (incl roads and railways)
  • Do not fly your drone without visual line of sight at any time
  • Do not fly in the hours of darkness (unless shielded)
  • Do not fly within 4km of an airport/heliport (unless shielded)
  • Do no fly within other controlled airspace
  • Do not fly over 120m above ground level
  • Do not apply liquid spray, fertiliser, or toxic pellets to pasture
  • Do not fly a drone weighing >25kg (laden or unladen)

A shielded operation (or shielded flight) is where your drone remains within 100 metres of, and below the top of, a natural or man-made object. For example, a building, tower, or trees.

In addition to the above, any operations involving Dept of Conservation land needs to be checked with them beforehand to obtain prior permission and any conditions they may impose.

You are legally required to comply with all relevant aviation laws and rules while flying your drone. For that reason, we strongly recommend that you attain your NZ Part 101 RPAS Pilot Certificate to ensure you understand your legal obligations, and you have a baseline level of aviation knowledge. A Part 101 Certificate will also permit you to fly within 4km of an airport/heliport.

If you wish to fly outside of these conditions, a Part 102 certificate is needed. This requires a more detailed understanding of aviation safety and additional regulatory approval, ensuring you have an appropriate level of aviation knowledge to operate under these more complex situations.There is also an additional CAA requirement for a qualified pilot operating outside the 101 conditions. This requires the pilot to fly under what is known as a Part 102 UAOC (Unmanned Aerial Operators Certificate).  This is issued by CAA to organisations or businesses. This “organisation certificate” (as opposed to the individual pilot certificate) provides the ability for an organisation to allow for named pilots to carry out specific activities that are included in what are called privileges to that organisation’s certification (known as their Exposition).

Privacy and Property Rights

When flying drones, operators must respect privacy and property rights.

They should avoid flying over people and private properties without permission and must not record or photograph individuals without their consent.

It is crucial to follow local privacy laws to avoid potential legal issues. Operators should familiarise themselves with the Privacy Act to understand their responsibilities regarding data collection and personal privacy.

No-fly Zones and Restricted Areas

Certain areas in New Zealand are designated no-fly zones for drones. These include regions around airports, heliports, military bases, and areas such as
breeding areas in DOC land as examples. It is important you understand these
restrictions - if unsure, liaise with the relevant authorities.

Flying a drone in these zones without permission can lead to hefty fines or other penalties.

The CAA provides maps and tools to help operators identify these restricted areas, namely Airshare. It is essential to check these resources before planning any drone flight to ensure compliance with all airspace restrictions.

Safety Guidelines

Flying a drone in New Zealand requires adherence to specific safety guidelines to ensure the well-being of people, property, and other aircraft. These guidelines are vital for safe and legal drone operations.

Pre-flight Checklist

Before flying a drone, it is essential to perform a pre-flight checklist to ensure all systems and conditions are safe.

  • Always check the weather. Avoid flying in strong winds, rain, or poor visibility.
  • Confirm that the drone is not damaged and all components, such as propellers and batteries, are in good condition.
  • Ensure the drone's batteries are fully charged. Double-check that the remote control and other necessary equipment are working correctly.
  • Familiarise yourself with the area's flight restrictions. Use apps or maps to verify no-fly zones and ensure you have any required permissions.
  • Check the flight area for hazards. Your flying area must be clear of people, animals, or anything that might cause problems, such as powerlines. Get permission if you plan to fly over people or private property, or stay well away.
  • Inform people nearby about your drone flight to avoid surprises or misunderstandings. Ensuring that the takeoff and landing zones are clear is critical to preventing accidents.
  • Finally, be ready to land. If you see another aircraft, or an emergency situation unfolding, immediately land your drone.

Emergency Procedures

Knowing how to handle emergencies can prevent dangerous situations.

If a drone malfunctions or loses contact with the remote control, it should ideally return to its takeoff point. Most modern drones feature a "return to home" function. Make sure this feature is activated and tested before takeoff.

In the case of a low battery during flight, immediately prepare for a safe landing. Be prepared for accidents by having a first-aid kit and knowing basic first aid.

Ensure your flight does not interfere with other aircraft, particularly in emergency situations. Contact local authorities if needed, and always report any incidents to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Legal Considerations

When flying drones in New Zealand, operators must comply with specific legal requirements including insurance and potential penalties for breaches. These regulations ensure safe and responsible drone usage.

Insurance Requirements

Drone operators in New Zealand are not legally required to have insurance, but it is highly recommended.

Having insurance can protect against third-party claims for damage or injury.

There are different types of insurance available.

Public liability insurance covers damage to property or injury to people. Hull insurance protects the drone itself in case of damage or loss.

For commercial operators, some clients may require proof of insurance before granting permissions to fly drones on their property.

Investing in insurance can provide peace of mind and safeguard against unexpected costs.

Breach Penalties

Non-compliance with New Zealand’s drone regulations can result in severe penalties.

Breaches of the Part 101 and Part 102 rules include fines and possible jail time.

Simple breaches, like flying in restricted areas or beyond visual line of sight, can lead to fines.

Repeated or severe violations, such as endangering public safety or flying close to airports, may result in stricter penalties.

Authorities take non-compliance seriously to ensure public safety and the integrity of airspace.

Drone operators should be thoroughly familiar with the rules and always fly responsibly to avoid any penalties.

Become a Drone Pilot in New Zealand

Flying a drone in New Zealand is a thrilling and rewarding experience, but it's crucial to understand and follow the regulations set out in Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Rules. 

Adhering to these guidelines ensures the safety of everyone involved and protects property and privacy. Whether you're a hobbyist or looking to advance your skills for professional use, understanding the rules will enhance your flying experience and keep you compliant with the law.

To gain comprehensive knowledge and practical skills, and gain the necessary certifications, consider signing up for an online drone training course. Our courses at Drone Trust are New Zealand’s only online drone certification courses designed to help you master the essentials of drone operation in New Zealand at your own pace.

Enroll today to become a confident and responsible drone pilot!

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