Drones pose danger around airport area

Monday December 24, 2018 Written by Published in Local

Authorities say five drones have been sighted near Rarotonga Airport since the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become popular on the island.


They have not crossed on to the airfield itself, but have flown outside the boundary fencing.

Airport Authority chief executive Joe Ngamata told CI News the sightings were on the sea-side of the airport, around Avatiu Harbour, at Black Rock and at the golf club or social centre area.

Ngamata said people flying drones need to understand the rules covering the areas they can fly in.

There is a four-kilometre exclusion zone around the airport that starts from its security boundaries.

The issue of drones illegally flying near an airport has come to fore with the recent emergency at London’s Gatwick airport where a drone forced its closure for more than 24 hours.

Gatwick is the second-busiest airport by passenger traffic in the United Kingdom, after London Heathrow. It is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe.

Since last Wednesday, British police have had 50 reports of a UAV, or drone, flying over Gatwick.

About 110,000 passengers on 760 flights had been due to fly and the British government had called the military in to deal with the matter.

Police said they were considering trying to shoot down the drone.

Ngamata told CI News drone operators need to understand the dangers they pose to commercial aircraft.

A study by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration research centre found drones were considerably more dangerous than birds because their rigid frame can cause greater damage. 

Even a small drone crashing into an aeroplane can do major damage, a university test shows.

Kevin Poormon, a University of Dayton engineer who has performed numerous bird strike tests on aeroplanes, mimicked a midair collision between a 1kg DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter and a plane.

The drone bore into the plane much farther than a similarly weighted gel "bird" and damaged the plane's main spar, which carries the weight of the wing. Debris spewed from the aircraft.

The first drone collision with a commercial plane happened last year over Quebec, Canada, causing minor damage to the plane. Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau said the crash "could have been … catastrophic".

Ngamata added: “People need to know the rules and the areas they can operate in and the areas not to fly into.”

On Rarotonga there are three air zones that drone pilots need to understand.

There is the airport exclusion zone, then outside of that is a restricted zone where drones are excluded without prior authority from Air Traffic Control (phone 25890, ext 202 or 213).

The third zone runs across Rarotonga between Arorangi and Avana. This is where drones can fly below 400 feet (120m), but only during the day and there must be a clear line of sight between the operator and the UAV itself. If flying over people’s property, the drone pilot must have the consent of the owners.

For more information go to www.caa.govt.nz/rpas.

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