Pilot acts to avoid Queenstown drone


An Air New Zealand plane carrying 153 passengers was forced to make a ”go-around” of Queenstown Airport yesterday to avoid a drone.

The A320 aircraft, flight NZ647 from Auckland, landed about 10 minutes later than scheduled, at 4.35pm, without incident, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

But the CAA is hoping police will find the person responsible for flying what is believed to be a drone into the airport’s controlled air space and lay the ”maximum charge they possibly can”.

Police were called to the Lake Hayes Estate subdivision at 3.50pm after a complaint from the Queenstown Airport control tower, of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), possibly a drone, being flown near the runway.

Lake Hayes Estate, which borders the Kawarau River, is one of the flight paths for aircraft landing or leaving the international airport.

In a statement, Airways corporate comms boss Angela Lamont says the UAV was sighted by tower controllers near the Lake Hayes end of the airport’s runway.

“According to civil aviation rules, UAV aircraft must not be flown within 4km of any controlled aerodrome, without authorisation from air traffic control. In accordance with our normal procedures, Airways reported this unauthorised flight to the police.”

Lamont’s CAA counterpart, Mike Richards, says the UAV forced the pilot of an A320 aircraft to undertake a ”go-around” to avoid a potential collision.

Richards is unimpressed.

“There are very clear rules around RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) being flown anywhere near airports – they just shouldn’t be there.

“It’s something that we take very seriously and are very concerned about because anything that threatens the takeoff or [landing] of an aircraft is cause for concern.

“I certainly hope the police apprehend the person and charge them with the maximum charge they possibly can because we don’t want this sort of behaviour to be encouraged at all.”

Richards says the maximum charge is endangerment of an aircraft, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment and a “very, very hefty fine”.

While the police could opt to issue a warning, the authority is hopeful the incident would be taken seriously.

The CAA could also choose to carry out a regulatory investigation – “and we may”, Richards says.

“We take that sort of behaviour as extreme and we want to prevent it at all costs.”

An unnamed police spokeswoman said last night the person flying the UAV had not been found.

Otago Daily Times