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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Beyond a joke

12 February 2018

Yes, today's column is another of those boring gripes about CAA and drones.

This morning I read this story on Stuff in which air tourism operators at Te Anau are expressing grave concerns that drones being operated near the lake will cause a tragedy.

In the past I have been critical of the manned aviation industry for their tendency to get hysterical about the risks associated with recreational drones but in this case I do believe they have some legitimate concerns. The reality is that drones ought not be flown in areas where there are significant levels of helicopter activity.

Yes, when flown safely, competently and responsibly, a recreational drone represents no real danger to a helicopter -- but we can't rely on tourists with their flash new DJI Phantom or Mavic to be any of those things.

However, the reality is that nobody (sociopaths excepted) deliberately seeks to injure or kill another person or persons. One can only deduce therefore, that anyone who does operate a drone in such a way is doing so out of ignorance.

What's more, any government agency, charged with the responsibility of keeping users of the airspace safe from unreasonable dangers, should be censured if they fail to perform that task to an adequate level.

So where is CAA's kick up the arse?

Again, let me be the first to admit that CAA's job is not a simple one nor, in this case, one they're particularly well equipped to handle.

Traditionally, CAA has only had to deal with a group of disciplined, trained proven-competent and responsible people -- aka "pilots".

In order to be granted the privilege of flying an aircraft, an individual must prove that they are all these things -- as well as a "fit and proper person" to be trusted with such responsibilities.

Drone operators, especially those who are only in NZ on holiday, are a completely different kettle of fish and CAA are well out of their depth in trying to effectively control the behaviour of this group.

CAA is used to telling pilots that it is their responsibility to ensure they have up-to-date knowledge of the rules and regulations and has the "big stick" of revoking privilege, should any pilot step out of line to an unacceptable extent.

Pilots also receive regular direct communications from CAA, in the form of advisories, the Vector magazine and other bits and pieces. This ensures that CAA is able to keep those affected, informed of regulatory and policy changes.

They have no such control over or connection with the general public however, and unfortunately, they appear to have no clue as to how they can "connect" with visitors to NZ and their drones.

They have promoted the AirMap app as a method of increasing safety but I've tried it and, to be totally honest, it's crap. In fact it's worse than crap -- because it can give a false sense of security when in fact there may be acknowledged risks in a particular area at a given time. Bad information is worse than no information!

As regular readers of this column will doubtless recall, I have lobbied CAA long hand hard to hand out their little orange drone-safety brochure at all international airports -- as a part of the package of immigration documentation. This one move could go an enormous way towards educating visitors to NZ, and thus eliminate the ignorance that my result eventually in injuries or death.

Even my suggestion to stick up a large poster with a QR code (leading to an online drone safety brochure) at international terminals has been ignored.

Now I'm sure that the media will continue to blame tourists whenever there's an incident involving a drone in one of our tourist spots -- but really, ought they not be apportioning a fairly sizable chunk of blame at CAA's doorstep?

Is it acceptable for CAA to simply say "we've made a set of rules" and leave it at that?

Ought they not have an obligation to *effectively* promulgate those rules to those who are affected by them?

If they fail to adequately inform visitors to NZ of the rules then ought CAA also have to shoulder some of the responsibility in the event someone is hurt or killed through ignorance of said rules?

If it was just one or two cases of tourists acting out of ignorance then perhaps we could understand -- but it's not. There are now a regular stream of incidents caused by such ignorance and CAA is doing absolutely jack-shirt to remedy that situation.

A risk has been identified but it is *not* being effectively managed by the government agency set up to do exactly that.

I call on the government to withdraw all coffee and biscuits from CAA's office until they actually address this issue!

What do readers think? Is it acceptable to simply make a bunch of rules and then say "job done" without properly promulgating those rules? Why have my own suggestions been clearly ignored, despite the fact that they would obviously represent an important step forward in managing the risk of ignorance within the tourist population?

What do you think will happen if/when someone dies due to this situation and I point out to the media that CAA has simply chosen not to do their job properly? Will heads roll within that government agency or will it all be whitewashed?

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