New Zealand

Drone Laws

Explained In Plain English

Planning on flying your drone to capture the beauty of New Zealand, and priceless memories on your holiday? Here’s a guide to the rules for your drone to get those perfect flying experiences, and that holiday footage, worry and stress-free!

New Zealand is an amazing country often rated as one of the best tourist destinations in the world. Just imagine yourself being surrounded by stunning landscapes of picturesque mountains, glaciers, pristine lakes, vibrant blue rivers, beautiful beaches, and colourful cities; it might just feel like being in a realm where magical elves, talking animals, and adventurous smallfolk live together in harmony. Once you see all of this with your own eyes, (or through a quick Google image search), you KNOW that a selfie just won’t suffice!

The rising popularity of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (better known as drones), has enabled filmmakers, recreational users, and even tourists to capture high definition aerial footage. Not only are they readily available in the market and are constantly being developed, they have also made them compact and portable, so they can be used by anyone, anywhere.

Well, not anywhere. New Zealand laws covering the use of drones have determined that all users must follow the rules laid out by the Civil Aviation Authority, as well as following the policies of whichever local council is responsible for the area you wish to fly in. So if you’re bringing your drone on your upcoming holiday, it’s best to prepare and be informed of the proper rules and regulations for a worry-free flying experience!

Fly during daylight

Drone users are only allowed to fly during the day. It’s easier to film footage and keep an eye on your drone at this time.

Keep an eye on your drone

You must be able to see your drone with your own eyes, and not through other devices like binoculars, smartphones, or monitors. If you’re planning on doing a First Person View (FPV) flight with goggles, have a buddy with you to keep an eye on your drone.

give way to other aircraft

Keep a safe distance and give way to other aircrafts such as aeroplanes, helicopters, and other drones, to avoid any accidents and putting yourself and others at risk.

YOU can fly up to 120 meters

Drone users are allowed to fly up to 120 meters or 400 feet above ground. Most consumer drones’ maximum altitude are around this height, but some models such as the DJI Phantom 4 or DJI Mavic Pro can reach higher altitudes of up to 500 meters. Best to fly within 120 meters, otherwise your flight is considered illegal.

Practice Safe Flying

Be courteous and fly at a safe distance from people, buildings and properties, roads, overhead cables, other aircraft, and animals around you. Follow safety measures to avoid any accidents or injuries, and to make sure your drone is safe and unscathed.

have permission from everybody

You are allowed to fly your drone over people and private property as long as you have their permission. This can prevent you from getting into trouble and avoid paying fines, or even getting your drone confiscated.

YOUR DRONE MUST BE UNDER 25 kg

CAA has indicated a weight limit for flying drones up to 25 kilograms only. The consumer drone industry produces a various range of drone models, but if you are looking to fly for fun or just to take photos and videos, most of these drone models are considered lightweight. Drone models such as the DJI Mavic Air, Parrot Bebop 2, and Xiro Explorer V all weigh no more than 5kg. So as long as your drone is within the 25kg limit, you won’t have to worry.

observe local drone laws

Some regions or cities may have other rules and exceptions, besides the ones the CAA have provided. For example, Queenstown Lakes District Council has stated that they are currently not giving approvals for remote-controlled aircraft (including drones) to fly over the parks, reserves and roads at present, unless it is intended and permitted for commercial film use. And other districts, such as the Auckland Council, have different specification requirements for drones that you can fly in public places and private property.

For more information, here’s a list of local councils you can contact before visiting.

keep a 4 km distance from airports

CAA strictly imposes a distance of at least 4 kilometres from airports and controlled airspace. Flying too close may cause interruptions and delays to airline flights and operations, which may result in serious consequences for both yourself and other people.

There is one exemption to this restriction, and this is called a shielded operation. A shielded operation is flying your drone within a sheltered environment. This means that you can fly within 100 meters of the tallest structure within the 4-kilometre requirement. So if you are in a park, you can fly below the level of the trees and stay within 100 meters. Keeping within the sheltered environment won’t pose as a threat to the aircraft within the 4-kilometre distance.

Observe no fly zones

There are certain areas that drone users are not allowed to fly at all. Some of these areas are airports and military operation areas, national parks, stadiums, and reserves, all of which require expressed permission and authorisation from local councils, the property owners, and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Some well known tourist spots that are considered as no-fly zones include sites such as Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, Abel Tasman National Park and the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and as well as public places such as cemeteries, parks, and beaches.

You can check out this page to learn more about getting authorisation to fly over parks and reserves.

get clearance if you want to fly near controlled airspace

If you must fly near airports or within controlled airspace, you need to acquire the approval of the CAA and have an arrangement with the operator and the control tower of the airfield you are flying within 4 kilometers from. This process may take a number of days, so it’s best to plan and do this weeks before your stay in New Zealand.

exception: shielded operation

An exception to the rule, a shielded operation means you can fly your drone day or night within a sheltered environment. This means that you can fly within 100 meters of the tallest structure. So if you are in a park, you can fly below the level of the trees and stay within 100 meters. If you are flying within the 4-kilometer radius from a controlled airspace, keeping within the sheltered environment won’t pose as a threat.

get a drone insurance

It is recommended to get drone insurance. In general, there are two types of insurance offered: drone liability insurance, and drone hull insurance. You can find more information about the coverage from the UAV Coach website.

There are a lot of things to consider when you decide to bring your drone with you, and these rules we have laid out are based only on our research on drone flying for New Zealand, and can only serve as a basic guide. Some laws may have been updated, so for the best safety measure, contact the Civil Aviation Authority, the local councils of the areas you plan on visiting, and even your country’s embassy.