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Drone operators asked to stay in own airspace

Guidelines stipulate drones are to be flown within the boundaries of a private property and to heights of no more than 400 feet. Supplied photo.

Crew of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust are wanting to remind members of the public that while skies over New Zealand may be free of commercial activity during the COVID-19 lockdown, essential services such as theirs are still operational all hours of the day and night.

This comes on the back of concerns that both private and licensed operators of drones may not be operating within Level 4 lockdown regulations.

These guidelines stipulate drones are to be flown within the boundaries of a private property and to heights of no more than 400 feet.

Acting CEO of ARHT, Michelle Boag, says that crew of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters are heartened to see that people in the Auckland and Coromandel communities are taking COVID-19 seriously.

“Our immediate concern, however, is that while we are taking every precaution available to us to protect our crew, patients and families from COVID-19, we  are at the mercy of drone operators wanting to capture images of Greater Auckland, Coromandel and the Gulf communities during lockdown.

“We can’t afford to put lives at risk with drones operating outside of the strict limits attached to the Level 4 lockdown.”

Deputy Flight Operations Manager James Tayler recalls an incident on Sunday, October 21, in 2018 when the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter he was piloting had a near-miss with a drone after taking off to fly to a Northland car crash scene where several patients were waiting for treatment.

James says the helicopter had climbed to 400 metres and was flying at a speed of about 230 kilometres per hour when crew saw a drone pass down its right-hand side about three to four metres away.

“We certainly don’t want a repeat of that.

“At a time like this, an accident in the air is the last thing our community needs.”

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter service continues to operate 24/7 during the coronavirus lockdown. Donations are needed to keep the service operational. Visit rescuehelicopter.org.nz.

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