Near miss between drone and Air NZ flight

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is investigating after a near miss between a drone and commercial plane near Christchurch.

The pilot of an Air New Zealand A320 en route from Christchurch to Auckland reported seeing the “sizeable” red-coloured drone pass close to the aircraft at an altitude of 6000 feet (1800 metres) in air space at Kaiapoi, north of the city, about 5.45pm on Friday.

“Based on the information to hand at this time it raises significant safety concerns,” CAA director Graeme Harris said.

“We are very concerned that [a drone] pilot appears to have allowed their aircraft to fly in such close proximity to a passenger aircraft. The [drone] should not have been anywhere near the jet. It simply shouldn’t have been in that airspace.”

Harris urged anyone with information about the drone flight, or its operator, to contact the CAA.

“We don’t want a repeat of this incident and want to make sure there is a clear understanding of both the risks and the benefits of flying [drones] in New Zealand skies.”

New civil aviation rules that came into effect last month required anyone wanting to fly a drone beyond what is allowed for traditional model aircraft to apply to the CAA for certification.

Thresholds included flying at night, beyond line of sight, or above 400 feet (120m).

Drone owner-operator Bobbie Reeve, who lived at Kairaki, near Kaiapoi, said there was no use for a drone at that altitude.

“I find it pretty hard for somebody to be at 6000 feet.

“Your battery power’s going to struggle for a start. And the bigger the drone the less time you’ve got. If it was a big drone it would probably have about 15 minutes of power.”

There was no benefit in filming from a great height, Reeve said, and air quality was an issue.

“There’s a lot of vapour in the air when you get to that height.”

In a statement, Air New Zealand said a trend of “reckless” drone use was emerging.

“What our pilot believed to be a drone was being operated in and around the flight path but was fortunately spotted by our pilots who ensured the aircraft avoided it,” Captain David Morgan said.

“This was reckless behaviour by the drone operator who has so far not had the courage to come forward and address their behaviour with authorities.”

“Drones are an emerging issue for airline operators and clearly incidents involving drones are a cause for concern.”

Transport Minister Simon Bridges had been briefed about the incident. He said he was satisfied the new rules for drone flights were appropriate.

“Unsafe [drone] flights are unlawful and will be dealt with accordingly.”

Police had filed a report on the incident and CAA staff were investigating.