A spate of illegal drone incidents in Queenstown over the past week – including one passing in front of a passenger jet – has sparked three separate investigations by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
A drone was reported in Queenstown Airport airspace twice in four days, while another drone was spotted in NZONE Skydive’s parachute drop zone on Monday morning.
Last Thursday, at 4.40pm, the pilot of an Air New Zealand plane arriving into Queenstown reported seeing a drone at around 3000 feet, less than 4km from the airport.
The pilot reported seeing the drone pass in front of the plane. Airspace was closed for 15 minutes but no other flights were delayed.
An almost identical incident occurred on Sunday at 9.45am, with a pilot reporting a drone flying at 1000 feet, less than 4km from the airport. Airspace was once again closed for 15 minutes.
The next morning a drone was seen flying at about 1000 feet within the NZONE parachute drop zone near Jack’s Point at 11.30am.
A CAA spokeswoman confirms they are investigating all three incidents.
Airways air traffic services general manager Tim Boyle has slammed the incidents, saying they’re continuing to see a “worrying number of drones operating illegally in airspace near airports throughout NZ”.
“Three events in such a short space of time in Queenstown is concerning.”
NZONE Skydive general manager Clark Scott says Monday’s incident was only the second he’s aware of.
“If and when we ever see or know of a drone operating in our area, we alert the authorities immediately and assist them in any way we can to apprehend the individual.”
Drones pose a risk, and operators should contact the CAA to make sure they understand all of the rules and regulations, he says.
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman says the incidents “support Air NZ’s well-documented view that there needs to be tougher and more consistent penalties for those who breach the rules around the use of drones”.
In February, Chilean tourist Jorge Eduardo Riquelme Cruz was convicted of operating a drone in a manner that caused unnecessary danger to pilots of firefighting helicopters in Wanaka. He was ordered to forfeit the $1700 drone.