Air New Zealand plane endangered by drone is the 'height of stupidity', yet nobody called police

Wellington — When a drone flew within meters of a landing plane last week, endangering 278 passengers and crew, Air New Zealand responded by saying that such reckless drone operators should be thrown in prison.

Other agencies also chimed in. Air traffic controllers said they were concerned about the increasing numbers of drones flying illegally in controlled airspace, while regulators said flying drones into a flight path was inexcusable and the "height of stupidity."

Yet the Associated Press has found that none of the agencies involved called or otherwise notified police about the drone. Not while it was endangering the plane, nor later to try to track down the perpetrator.

Air New Zealand didn't call. Auckland Airport didn't. Air traffic controllers didn't. And the Civil Aviation Authority didn't.

SEE: Latest UK airport closure due to drone sees call for tougher rules to avoid 'disaster'

Flight NZ92 from Tokyo was landing at Auckland Airport on 25 March when it had the close call. Air New Zealand said the pilots spotted the drone about 5 metres from the plane at a point in their descent when it was impossible to take evasive action.

The airline said the drone passed so close that the crew worried it had been sucked into an engine, although a later inspection showed that hadn't happened.

"It's clear the time has now come for tougher deterrents for reckless drone use around airports to safeguard travellers," David Morgan, the airline's chief operations and integrity standards officer, said in a statement last week.

But police told the AP there was no record of any report to them about the drone. And that's despite police officers being routinely stationed at the airport.

Under current regulations, drone operators who breach aviation rules can be fined up to 5 000 New Zealand dollars (R42899,06 at NZ$1/R8.58).

SEE: Don't zone out with your drone out: SA's no-drone zones

Airways spokesperson Emily Davies said the first priority for air traffic controllers during a drone incursion is to safely manage the planes in the area. She said a controller can call police if it's operationally safe to do so.

"On Sunday (25 March), the controllers on duty were unable to safely leave their positions to make a call due to the workload associated with heavy traffic volumes and managing the drone incursion," she said.

She added that controllers are required to notify regulators, who may decide to involve police in an investigation.

Auckland Airport said airlines contact controllers about drones, who in turn contact police if there is an imminent threat. Air New Zealand said questions about tracking down the drone operator should be directed to regulators.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it had received a report from the pilot about the drone but couldn't provide further details "as its part of the information gathering that is now underway in connection with this incident."

SEE: Google guru Page tests flying taxis in New Zealand

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
When a Covid-19 vaccine for under 16's becomes available, will you be taking your children to get it?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, immediately!
37% - 2442 votes
I'll wait to see how others respond
26% - 1749 votes
No, I don't think they need it
37% - 2433 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.09
(-0.16)
ZAR/GBP
21.02
(-0.23)
ZAR/EUR
18.22
(-0.19)
ZAR/AUD
11.62
(-0.25)
ZAR/JPY
0.14
(-0.54)
Gold
1734.50
(+0.02)
Silver
26.67
(+0.05)
Platinum
1186.51
(+0.42)
Brent Crude
64.40
(-2.56)
Palladium
2310.00
(+0.58)
All Share
66138.05
(-1.99)
Top 40
60754.30
(-2.11)
Financial 15
12200.05
(-1.09)
Industrial 25
86144.34
(-0.81)
Resource 10
67459.85
(-4.14)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo