A lot of people see the FAA as the enemy rather than as a partner.
I thought I would take the opportunity to share how the same problem that the USA is facing is being dealt with in New Zealand with far less angst, far more co-operation between parties and a better outcome for everyone.
New Zealand has exactly the same problem as the USA or really any country with air traffic. We have thousands of private and commercial aircraft flying around and a rapidly growing list of RPAS (here we call them Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, not drones) wanting to get up in the air.
In New Zealand, the Government has seen RPAS as a huge opportunity to develop and grow an export market and create a new high tech industry. The opportunities that RPAS offer our large agricultural and horticultural industries are significant. Not to mention Search and Rescue which costs the country dearly every year both in lost lives and financial expense.
Rather than squash the opportunity with regulation, the New Zealand Government wants to foster and grow it.
The Government has created an entity called Callaghan Innovation and its sole purpose is to foster and support innovation in technology based New Zealand companies. In partnership with researchers at our Universities, this organisation helps turn ideas into reality by cutting legislative red tape and connecting the people with the ideas to capital, resources and the rule makers.
In New Zealand we have two organisations that manage our air space. The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is the equivalent of the FAA and creates the regulations.
Airways Corporation is a Government owned, for profit 'company' that manages all air traffic (our ATC network) for the whole country.
We also have a relatively new organisation called UAVNZ. This group consists of UAV manufacturers, commercial UAV operators, military representatives and private citizens interested in flying UAV’s for recreation. Importantly, Callaghan Innovation is one of the driving forces of UAVNZ. It is free for anyone to join UAVNZ but they plan on offering additional paid services in the future.
All these parties have come together to create www.airshare.co.nz. The purpose is to develop industry guidelines in conjunction with the CAA and to organise trade shows and symposiums where all the parties can develop an integration plan together.
One of the most exciting developments is that UAVNZ is working on an interface into Airways Corporation via its website that will allow any member (for a small fee) to be able to register their UAV flight plan with Airways Corporation. This will cause that airspace to be shut down for the duration of the RPAS flight, notifying all commercial and private aircraft to avoid the area. This will allow an operator (whether commercial, recreational or for research) to fly above the 400ft cap that is currently in place and potentially beyond line of site without having to jump through too many hoops.
In New Zealand, the CAA allows commercial operation of RPAS. There are not too many specific rules at present, however an operator should demonstrate they have a suitable level of processes and procedures in place to ensure safe operation and flights. In the future the CAA aims to better define what is required to achieve the right to operate commercially and this is being worked on in partnership with airshare.
You can currently fly a UAV in NZ without too many restrictions, so long as it is kept line of site, below 400ft and weighs less than 25kg. One off exemptions are given to fly above this altitude and beyond line of site, either by special application or by activating one of the designated UAV Danger Zones. The aim is to reduce the red tape and simplify the process of these sorts of operations.
In the future, it seems highly likely that an approved operator will be able to fly almost anywhere by registering their flight plan with Airways Corporation.
At the same time, researchers are working on what would be required (think transponders) to fully integrate RPAS into the NZ airspace.
I was at a meeting the other week for something unrelated to RPAS and it was really refreshing to hear someone from CAA talk about the huge opportunity for RPAS and how they are keen to foster growth in the industry by making the integration process sim....
We live in exciting times and with the right regulatory framework the possibilities for RPAS are limitless.