GTodd Law

News / Blog

August 2015

GTODD LAW News - Wed, 5 August 2015

Game of Drones: Changes to the legal framework for flying unmanned aircrafts


The Civil Aviation Authority receives up to 50 enquiries a week relating to unmanned aircraft (“UAV”). This compares to around 20-30 enquiries weekly at the beginning of 2014. Furthermore, operation in breach of the Civil Aviation Rules could lead to a fine, a written warning, or prosecution by the Civil Aviation Authority. There have already been 53 such incidents this year, in comparison to 27 incidents for the whole of 2014.

Drones are on the forefront of current technological advancements. They provide practical benefits for private owners, commercial entities, governmental departments, and anybody who can still associate with their ten year old self’s ambition to be a Star Wars fighter pilot.

However, like any other development that challenges conceptual barriers, this rapidly evolving industry is raising complex regulatory questions. Issues relating to privacy, public safety, and environmental concerns, are just some of the counter arguments opponents have raised. New Zealand is seen as a leader in governing the area. Transport Minister Simon Bridges solidified this aggressive approach last week by adding further restrictions to the Civil Aviation Rules. The new rules came into force on the 1st of August 2015.

Civil Aviation Rules:

The principle form of governance for UAV’s are the Civil Aviation Rules. These take the form of a number of guidelines that the Civil Aviation Authority has established, under their delegated authority within the Civil Aviation Act 1990. The rules themselves are guidelines, therefore, they lack legally binding impetus. However, almost every Civil Aviation Rule has a corresponding offence, contained in the Civil Aviation (Offences) Regulations 2006. Historically, most breaches of the rules by participants are dealt with by the various operational groups of the Civil Aviation Authority. However, from time to time, some individual rule breaches may be considered serious enough to warrant referral to the law enforcement unit, or there may be concern that a participant has continually breached certain rule requirements and that a more punitive sanction is necessary.

The previously existing Civil Aviation Rules affecting drones:

As a general guide, prior to the 1st of August you could fly your UAV:

  • In uncontrolled airspace below 400 feet above ground level
  • During daylight hours
  • Within visual line of sight (‘Visual line of sight’ means a straight line along which an observer has a clear view)
  • Clear of all manned aircraft, and risks to persons & property 
  • Outside of airspace restricted areas
  • Not within 4km of any aerodrome
  • If you knew the Civil Aviation Authority regulations

New Civil Aviation Rules for UAVs

Transport Minister Simon Bridges intention for the new Civil Aviation Rules for unmanned aircraft is to improve aviation safety for operators, other airspace users and people and property. These come in the form of two main additions/amendments:

  1. A key update to Rule Part 101, which was designed to regulate traditional model aircraft, is the requirement for operators who want to fly over people or property to gain consent from the affected individuals or property owners before they fly. This change causes all types of issues when it comes to monitoring and policing the current framework, but is viewed as a necessary step towards greater safety and privacy. It is going to be interesting to examine its application in practice with many commercial proponents frustrated with the additional compliance costs and obligations.
  2. Civil Aviation Rule Part 102 will enable those who want to operate outside the existing rules for unmanned aircraft to do so if they have in place a plan to manage the safety risks. This provision provides an alternative to the current guidelines, but requires a detailed plan contingent upon the authorisation of the Civil Aviation Authority. It is viewed as adding to the enabling mechanisms within the rules to help the development of the industry. Similarly, to the property owner consent amendments, it will be better understood when evidenced in practice.


The Government’s extension to the rules places more onerous restrictions on all drone operators, from commercial users to amateur aviators and budding Star Wars pilots. More than anything, it highlights the need to be aware of the restrictions in place for the use of UAVs.

At GTODD LAW we are aware of these requirements. Consequentially, we are in a position to provide advice if you would like to develop strategies for their use or consult with relevant affected property owners based on the new restrictions. We have attached an affected party form that can be used as a precedent in gaining the approval of affected property owners.

Landowner approval for operation of unmanned aircraft:

I/We (Please print full name/s)_________________________________________________________

of (Address)________________________________________________________________________

in accordance with the Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules, namely Part 101.207 relating to airspace, give my/our written approval to the proposed use of an unmanned aircraft over our property.

In signing this written approval:

  • I limit my approval to the use of the unmanned aircraft specified to me by the operator, including but not limited to the duration of operation, the airspace over which operation will occur within and the type unmanned aircraft to be operated.
  • I may withdraw my written approval in writing before or during such use if there are reasonable grounds

Signiture/s­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________________________________________ Date_______________________

(or person authorised to sign on behalf)