Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) users are being urged to keep clear of Wanaka aerodrome when NASA plans to launch a large super-pressure scientific balloon into near space.
The balloon launch is planned for the morning of Monday 16 March, providing weather conditions are calm. The launch will be deferred until the next suitable day if conditions are not perfect.
New Zealand is seeing rapid growth in the use of UAVs, or ‘drones’ – these unmanned aircraft are increasing in popularity, and can often be spotted in the skies around sports and community events.
Airways New Zealand, the country’s air navigation services provider, is appealing to the public to be aware of their responsibilities when flying their UAVs, especially around Wanaka during NASA’s balloon launch. As a general guide, in uncontrolled airspace UAVs can only be flown below 400 feet above ground level, and not within 4km of any aerodrome, unless approval has been granted from the aerodrome operator. To fly in controlled airspace, UAV operators are required to request access from air traffic control.
“UAVs are now sophisticated enough to reach high altitudes, and if used inappropriately or not in line with Civil Aviation Rules, they could pose serious risks in our airspace,” says Airways Chief Operating Officer Pauline Lamb. “With this aviation event happening in Wanaka, it’s a good time to remind all aviation users, including UAV owners that they’re responsible for operating safely. Please take a few minutes to check out airshare.co.nz to understand the Civil Aviation Rules that UAVs must adhere to,” says Ms Lamb.
The airshare website was launched in June last year as an online portal and community hub for all UAV users in New Zealand. This user-friendly website helps people to quickly discover where they can fly and what they need to know, including the Civil Aviation Rules. Operators can create a user account to log all their UAV flights and interface with air traffic control to request access to controlled zones.
Developed by Airways New Zealand in collaboration with industry group UAVNZ, Callaghan Innovation and the Civil Aviation Authority, airshare is widely supported by the commercial UAV community and is also reaching out to recreational flyers.
Ms Lamb says Airways has worked alongside NASA behind the scenes planning the airspace logistics for the launch of the 2.3 tonne helium-filled balloon. “Our focus is on facilitating the safe passage of the balloon through controlled airspace, which starts at 9,500 feet above Wanaka,” she concludes.