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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Asking for trouble

6 March 2019

Sorry but it's drones again...

Every year over 100 reports are filed with CAA in respect to the use or misuse of "remotely piloted aircraft systems", RPAS or "drones" to the great unwashed.

Some of these reports make it to the media and we read about how firefighting helicopters have been grounded due to some idiot trying to get aerial video of the mayhem -- or how Auckland International Airport has been shut down because some pilot saw a drone a thousand metres away (despite university studies showing that's pretty much impossible).

Now I feel I must remind all readers that the death toll from the recreational use of multirotor drones remains at a big fat zero -- as it has for the entire history of time on this planet -- so one could assume that in light of the proliferation of these craft, their use actually poses a fairly low risk to life.

When I perused the CAA incident reports for RPAS a year or two ago, I noticed that a great many of the so-called incidents involved someone contacting CAA and saying "I saw a drone". Probably driven by media-induced hysteria, these people obviously felt that even seeing a drone placed them in danger and that someone ought to be arrested or prosecuted as a result.

The reality is that very, very few of the 160 or so incidents reported in that year were cases where human life or property was even remotely endangered.

Of course since then the media has continued its ongoing vilification of the hobby and now people are even more concerned that all drone operators are perverts and that all drones are just looking for an aircraft to knock out of the sky.

And now "the powers that be" have take the public's ability to indulge in this hysteria to a whole new level.

Enter the Tracker app.

Yes, Airshare (a JV involving Airshare, Callaghan Innovations and other) has spent God-knows how much money creating an app to simplify the task of capturing your hysterical reaction to seeing a drone.

Using this app, the public will be able to report drone sightings and then get regular updates as to the result of investigations into those reports.

Seriously???? What are they smoking at Airshare?

They even provide a simple 1-2-3 photographic sequence to show how easy it is to use the app and report drone sightings. And the irony of that sequence is that it appears to show empty sky over the sea. So long as you're not in controlled airspace or within 4Km of an airport or helipad, it's actually quite legal to fly a drone over the sea so this really does ram home the suggestion that *every* and *all* drone sightings (even when you can't see them) should be reported.

This is utter lunacy on so many levels!

For a start, the public will now be even more inclined to believe that *any* and *every* drone they see should be reported because it's probably operating illegally.

Secondly, whoever is tasked with the job of responding to and investigating genuine incidents where there is a possible risk to person or property will be overwhelmed with "I saw a drone" reports streaming in via this app. The signal to noise ratio is already very poor, now it will be unworkably so.

But I guess that this is what you get when you have a bunch of overly-funded people sitting around (especially when Callaghan Innovation is involved) and looking for ways to spend money.

I dare say that someone is being very handsomely rewarded, not only for coming up with this lame idea but also for developing what will effectively be the biggest negative in aviation safety for many years.

It should be remembered at this point, that Airways (a major partner in Airshare) are also the ones who are pushing like hell for the compulsory registration of all drones in New Zealand. Of course let's not forget that such a registration system would be far from free and it would almost certainly be administered by Airways themselves, at a profit of course.

I have signed up to be advised when this app is available for download and I will be using it at every opportunity. The fact that I am very frequently near RC models and drones could require me to make sure I carry a power-bank with me so that my smartphone does not go flat with all those reports being filed all day, every day.

But here's another question...

A couple of years ago there were about 150 RPAS reports filed with CAA -- but there were many, many times more reports filed in respect to manned aviation incidents. So where is the Tracker report for members of the public who want to file (with evidence) reports of low-flying aircraft, aircraft operating recklessly, aircraft near-misses and the many other types of things that have produced such reports in the past?

Why are they (yet again) focusing their resources and technology on the SMALLEST of problems rather than the larger problem?

Idiots!

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