Drone scare aborts landing
On the night of 17 August the pilot of an Air NZ A320 on final approach to Queenstown Airport and carrying 153 passengers was forced to abort his final approach and fly into the circuit after an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was sighted in the air near the airport runway.
Flight NZ647 from Auckland landed some10min later than scheduled, at 4.35pm, without incident, according to the CAA.
Emily Davies, head of Public Affairs for Airways NZ, says, “A UAV was sighted by our Queenstown control tower controllers at about 3.50pm, airborne near the Lake Hayes end of the Queenstown Airport runway. In accordance with our normal procedures, Airways reported this unauthorised flight to the police.
“As a precautionary measure, our controllers instructed an aircraft to go around until we could be certain the airspace was clear for a safe landing. We gave clearance for the aircraft to land shortly afterwards.”
She confirmed that ATC had not given authorisation for the UAV to operate in this safety-critical area. According to CAA rules, UAV aircraft must not be flown within 4km of any controlled aerodrome, without authorisation from air traffic control.
As a result of the call from Airways staff, police went to the Lake Hayes Estate subdivision which borders the Kawarau River on the flight path for aircraft landing or taking off at the international airport. The UAV had been sighted in this area.
CAA corporate communications manager Mike Richards hopes the police will identify the person responsible for the UAV operation. When this happens, he believes the police should arraign this person with the maximum charge available, which is included in the statute as “endangerment to aircraft”. On conviction such a charge carries a penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or a very substantial fine.
He admits the police could issue a warning only to the person illegally flying the UAV but believes the full weight of the law should be felt in this case to emphasise the serious nature of the matter. He also points out that the CAA may undertake its own regulatory investigation of the matter, which it is entitled to do under its enabling legislation.
The person flying the UAV had not yet been found at press time.
- Report by John King.
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