Director of Civil Aviation v Pitman [2020] NZDC 20911

Published 08 September 2021

Judge-alone trial — causing unnecessary endangerment — failing to give way to manned aircraft — failing to keep clear of manned aircraft — drone — mid-air collision — Civil Aviation Act 1990, ss 4(1)(a), 44 & 100(1)(b) — Civil Aviation Rules, rr 101.209 & 101.213(a) — Civil Aviation (Offences) Regulations 2006 — Fowler v Police [1983] NZLR 701 — Tell v Maritime Safety Authority [2008] NZAR 306. The defendant appeared on charges of causing unnecessary endangerment and failing to give way to and keep clear of a manned aircraft. He had flown a drone that collided in mid-air with a paraglider. The paraglider was forced to make an emergency landing and the pilot was able to escape without injury. The defendant defended the charges, arguing that he had taken proper care by becoming familiar with safe drone operation, and taking care to check that he was flying his drone in uncontrolled airspace and that there were no hazards in the area. The defendant had not been aware that the area was popular with paragliders; upon arriving he noticed several paragliders in flight but until the collision occurred, he had believed that they were flying in an area separate to where he was operating his drone. The Court rejected the defendant's argument that a website that he had consulted should have warned him of paragliders in the area. The defendant had an obligation to become familiar with the Civil Aviation Rules, which would have led him to become aware of the hazard. In any case, the defendant had failed to take notice of what was happening around him while he was flying his drone. He had spent too much time watching the drone on the operator screen display and too little actually watching the drone in the air. Had he done so he would have been able to remain clear of the paraglider. The Court found both charges proved. Judgment Date: 14 October 2020