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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Money trumps safety every time

17 May 2017

Hypocrisy makes me cross, very cross.

When people or organisations say one thing, then do exactly the opposite they immediately lose any credibility in my eyes.

Let's take the example of aviation safety for example.

With the rising issue of drones and other RC models potentially posing a risk to the national airspace, I engaged in discussions with CAA some time ago. They told me that it was not legal to fly any kind of "remotely piloted aircraft system" (RPAS) above 400 feet AGL or further than you could see it -- for safety reasons.

"Fair enough" I thought but, given that many hobbyists break both these rules at some stage in their activities, why not set aside an area of airspace where such "risky" activities could be allowed and where other air traffic could be excluded or at least warned of the fact that they would not be alone?

"Can't be done" I was firmly informed by Rex Kenny of CAA (since retired).

So, with such an unwavering assurance that it simply would never be possible to create such a safe playground for those who wanted to get the lust for height and distance out of their systems, I gave up on the idea.

At this point it should be realised that today, more than ever before, regular folk can go into a shop like Noel Leeming and buy an "off the shelf" drone which is perfectly capable of ascending to thousands of feet and flying up to 7Km from the pilot. What's more, a huge percentage of those who buy these things find themselves tempted to try out those claims for themselves.

Unfortunately, because they have nowhere to do this safely, there's always a risk that those illegal flights will place person and/or property in danger -- hence my request for some restricted airspace where people could get this desire for height and distance "out of their system".

And it is a case of getting it "out of your system". Many years ago, when I first discovered FPV (first person view) and the fun that could be had by putting a camera on a model, donning a set of video glasses and flying from the pilot's seat, I tried both high altitude and long-distance flying. To be honest, both were boring as bat-poo but until I'd tried it, there was always a desire to find out for myself.

These days, virtually all of my FPV flying is done within a metre or two of the ground and no more than a couple of hundred of metres away. This "close proximity" flying is far more enjoyable and exciting -- I no longer have any desire to fly high and far. I got it out of my system!

I've always felt disappointed that the aviation regulations would not allow for the creation of a restricted airspace where drones and models could be flown far and high -- because I believed what I was told by Mr Kenny.

Then, knock me down with a feather, I see this appear:

https://www.incredibleskies.nz/

What the?

Hang on a minute... was CAA bullshirting me?

It seems so.

So why did they say "it can't be done" when I inquired about the creation of such an area for recreational RC model and drone fliers -- but now they've handed over control of exactly this type of restricted airspace to a commercial entity?

Yes folks, you guessed it -- if there's money involved, it seems that CAA will do whatever you pay them to do. The impossible obviously becomes quite possible if there's enough cash involved.

Once again I am left with the honestly held opinion that CAA is far more about money than it is about safety.

It becomes very hard to respect any organisation that places dollars ahead of lives and, as everyone knows, when you're trying to change human behaviour (such as the actions of rogue drone fliers), respect is everything.

I remain wholly unimpressed.

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