Reckless drone users prompt detection radar trial at Auckland Airport

A drone detection radar will be positioned at the end of Auckland Airport’s runway to prevent near-misses between planes and unmanned aircrafts.


It follows two near-misses at the international airport last month including an incident where an Air New Zealand flight from Japan was approaching the runway when a drone flew so close to the passenger plane the pilot thought it was sucked into an engine.

The move by Airways New Zealand, the air traffic control organisation, comes amid calls within the aviation industry to register drones, consider a licensing system and strengthen penalties for reckless operators.

Air NZ chief operations and integrity standards officer Captain David Morgan said the pilot of NZ92 from Tokyo could not take evasive action on March 25 because the plane with 278 passengers on board was already midway through its landing descent.

“The drone was sighted at 1400ft, about five miles from the end of the runway on the approach path and went straight past the aeroplane, not far from the captain’s window.”

Drones are not supposed to be flown higher than 400ft (120 metres), within restricted airspace, over private property, at night and must be in sight of the operator.

Currently a drone sighting at an airport temporarily shuts down the airspace forcing planes to be diverted and delayed.
But an Airways trial of a drone detection radar, set to begin in about four weeks, is aimed at spotting drones up to 9km away and 1700ft (518m) in the air.
Morgan said Air NZ was very supportive of the technology.
“That will allow the guys in the [traffic control] tower to detect a drone, and then warn the pilots that it’s there.”

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