Drone spotted 30 metres from plane at Auckland Airport

Flights were suspended temporarily at Auckland Airport last night causing some international and domestic arrival delays after a drone was spotted by a pilot.

A Barrier Air flight pilot saw the drone at 5pm, reporting it came within around 30m of the aircraft.

Airways NZ head of public affairs Jamie Gray said flights were suspended for 15 minutes in response to the drone sighting.

“This temporarily delayed domestic and international arrivals. Normal operations resumed at 5.45pm.”

Police were advised and the matter had been reported to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as a safety event, Gray said.

There have been 21 drone incursions reported in controlled airspace in the year to date.

“These are events where a drone is flying without authorisation in controlled airspace and is close enough to an aircraft or airfield to be spotted by pilots, air traffic controllers or members of the public.”

He said not all drone incursions result in flight disruptions but each incident is risk assessed and the appropriate action is taken.

Only last week a chief helicopter pilot was left fuming after a person flew a drone near the Dunedin Hospital helipad as a helicopter was about to take off.

The helicopter was about to take off at 6.40pm on April 21 when an paramedic onboard spotted the drone with a flashing red light flying about 20m southwest of the helipad and about 5m above it.

The helicopter’s departure was delayed until the drone flew off.

Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale slammed the illegal drone flight as “seriously dangerous” and “potentially life-threatening”.

He told the Otago Daily Times the flight was “absolutely stupid”.

Drones aren’t the only things causing havoc for pilots.

Two weeks ago an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Whangārei was targeted by a laser pointer as it came into land.

NZ8226 was on a short flight from Auckland when the incident happened near Whangārei Heads.

Air NZ’s chief operational integrity and safety officer Captain David Morgan confirmed the incident, saying at the time the pilot followed the standard process and alerted Air Traffic Control.

“The aircraft landed without incident in Whangārei around 8.20pm.”

High-powered laser attacks can distract or in extreme cases potentially blind crew, and they are increasing.

Offenders face up to three years in prison or a fine up to $2000 if convicted of possession of a high-powered laser or up to 14 years in jail if convicted under the Crimes Act for endangering transport.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association spokesman Captain Tim Robinson told the Herald last week that pilots’ grave concerns about laser strikes were going unheard by the relevant authorities as incidents mount.

“I don’t want to put words in their mouth but they obviously don’t think the risk is great enough and we certainly do,” Robinson said.

“We would hate to see a fatal accident, especially from a medium-to-large-size commercial airliner, because these lasers continue to illuminate aircraft.”

Ministry of Transport (MoT) economic regulation manager Tom Forster did not directly respond to Robinson’s claims but acknowledged the danger laser strikes posed.

“Deliberately shining a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind the flight crew and can potentially lead to disorientation or loss of aircraft control.”

CAA deputy chief executive Dean Winter said he shared Robinson’s concerns about the danger laser strikes posed to pilots, but noted it was “enormously difficult” to investigate such incidents.

Less than a week after the Whangārei incident, police received a report of a laser being pointed at a commercial plane at Auckland Airport.

The report came in at 7.15pm and the matter had been referred to the CAA, a police spokeswoman said.


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