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Drones invading controlled air space in NZ at rate of one a week, Airways NZ says

Tuesday 27th March 2018

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Airways New Zealand, which runs the national air traffic control system, says drones may be invading controlled airspace around airports at a rate of one a week.

Drones are typically too small to be spotted by current air traffic control technology and recent citings have included by pilots of an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland from Japan last Sunday afternoon, who reported a drone came within five metres of the 777-200 aircraft during its descent into Auckland.

Airways chief executive Graeme Sumner says the body is to begin a trial of drone detection technology.

"Drone detection technology is still in its infancy globally but Airways has been actively looking for solutions and we plan to begin trialling a new system within the next three months," Sumner said in a statement.

Airways's website allows drone operators to request flight clearances from air traffic control. Since it began four years ago,  the number of drone flights logged with the system has jumped to 600 a week from 30, with 7,000 registered users.

Air NZ said Sunday's near-miss was the second this month after flights were halted at Auckland International Airport for 30 minutes on March 6 after a drone sighting in controlled airspace.

Air New Zealand's chief operations and integrity standards officer Captain David Morgan called on the government to protect the travelling public from the rising risk posed by unregulated drones. On Sunday, the pilots weren't able to take evasive action because they were committed to the descent. There was a concern the drone could have been sucked into one of the jet engines, he said.


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