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Where NZ leads the world

16 September 2019

A reader dropped me an email last week in respect to the activities of the Extinction Revolution (ER) group and in respect to the actions police were taking against them.

Let's ignore the whole issue of whether this group of tofu sandled, hemp tee-shirted activists are in the right or the wrong with there attempts to bring air traffic in and out of Heathrow to a standstill. Let's focus instead on the reaction of authorities and the mindnumbing stupidity involved.

The ER said that they would fly drones within the exclusion zone around Heathrow and that this would result in the airport suspending flights. The inconvenience thus caused would raise the profile of their claims regarding the huge carbon footprint that an extension to the airport would create.

The first reaction of police was to arrest the ring-leaders for "conspiracy".

But conspiracy to do what?

Well interestingly enough, although we've been told that flying drones near airports is incredibly dangerous and that "it's only a matter of time" before a drone brings down an airliner resulting in death and destruction -- these ringleaders were arrested on charges of "conspiracy to create a public nuisance".

Excuse me?

Now I will admit that having pieces of a Boeing 777 fall to the ground in flames after a drone slices through the fuel tanks could be considered "a public nuisance" -- but is this the best thing police can come up with?

Well of course it is.

Why is that?

Because everyone (except the most gullible) now realises that a toy plastic drone being flown at head hight outside the boundaries of an airport does not pose any realistic threat to aviation. Heathrow airport themselves have said that they're unconcerned over the levels of risk involved and would not be halting aircraft movements, even if the ER managed to get some of their toy drones into the air.

So doesn't this just make a huge mockery of the increasingly restrictive and punative drone regulations that are now being rolled out around the world, allegedly in the name of safety?

Another indication that Heathrow Airport have adequately judged the risks involved is the fact that here in New Zealand, what the ER are doing would be considered safe and legal. They would not be inviolation of our drone laws thanks to the existence of a provision called "a shielded operation". By way of this single piece of regulation, we lead the world in "commonsense".

For those who aren't aware of what a "shielded operation" is -- it's an exemption from the normal exclusion for drones and flying models that exists around airports. The rationale behind this exemption is that if you're flying a drone or model no higher than the tallest object within 100m and outside the physical boundary of an airport then there is no risk to aviation.

For example, if you're flying in a park 1Km from an airport (which is inside the 4Km exclusion zone as it exists in NZ) then so long as you don't fly higher than the tallest tree within 100m, you're safe. Let's face it, if a Cessna 172 or Boeing 737 was also flying below the treeline in your local park, they've got much bigger issues than worrying about a toy plane or plastic drone getting in their way haven't they?

The strange thing is that New Zealand appears to be the only country smart enough to have figured this out. Other countries consider it a breach of regulations even if you're flying a toy drone beneath dense tree-cover within the exclusion zone of their airports.

What's more, in countries such as the USA, you're now legally required to use an app to request permission to fly under those trees -- if they are in controlled airspace. Does Air Traffic Control really need that extra workload? Is that really going to contribute to the safety of the national airspace?

I am constantly amazed that no other country has adopted New Zealand's world-leading and incredibly sensible attitude to flying in shielded operations -- and this I think betrays the fact that most of the regulation we're now seeing in respect to drones and flying models is not being done to improve safety -- but rather to clear the space for commercial users.

More worrying elements of overseas regulations include the fact that CASA in Australia will soon effectively have the power to ban people from the hobby of flying RC models.

They are also making it illegal for young people (under the age of 16) in the UK or Australia to fly a toy or small drone without the supervision of an adult who carries an officially recognised drone certification. What about the 10 year-old kid in a one-parent family who wants to get into flying model aircraft but whose mother has neither the time nor the accumen to obtain that certification and then supervise her child's every flight?

Because, as we all know, 10-year-olds with model planes have caused so much death and destruction around the world in the 100 or more years that they've been in the hobby -- right?

There is some crazy stuff going down in the name of clearing the skies for Google, Amazon, DHL and the other companies who see the 0-400ft piece of airspace as a goldmine.

Not good enough! Look out for some continued ranting from me (mainly on my YouTube channels) about this.

But what do readers think? Is it fair that big multinational corporations are so easily able to kick kids out of one of the world's safest and most educational hobbies with such ease? Isn't it obvious that the risks have been grossly overstated solely as a justification for sweeping "mere amateurs" out of the way of commercial operations in this chunk of the sky?

How do we go about protecting the freedoms of our kids (of all ages) against the very clear agenda of corporations with huge wallets and massive amounts of political influence?

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