RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft

New rules are now in place for RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft and if you operate any of these aircraft, it's important that you read the rules:

Rules - see Part 101 and Part 102.

We've provided some help to make it easier though, see:

Advisory Circulars - these give advice on how to comply with the rules.

And to help you find out which rules apply to you, we've provided 'matrixes' on the Forms page:

Forms - there's also the application form for Part 102, and a sample exposition.

For answers about consent, certification, airspace, etc, see:

Frequently Asked Questions - RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft

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There has been huge growth in the development and use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)*. You can see examples everywhere of aeroplanes and multi-rotor ‘helicopters’ in toy and electronic stores.

There’s also a lot of interest in their commercial use, such as in real estate aerial photography and power lines inspection.

But they are aircraft and present a number of safety risks, particularly close to controlled airspace and over densely-populated areas – what happens if they fail mid-flight? Aviation regulators around the world are grappling with how to integrate RPAS into existing aviation safety systems.

Like all aviation ‘participants’, people who fly RPAS need to know some safety rules, so everyone in the air and on the ground, gets home safely and their aircraft is not destroyed.

NZ Drone Safety - airshare

  See the airshare™ NZ Drone Safety video (2:16).


*RPAS is the official International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) term for such aircraft. They are also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), and drones.

Civil Aviation Rules

Every person in New Zealand’s civil aviation community shares responsibility for the safety and security of everyone. The Minister of Transport creates the Civil Aviation Rules to make sure it happens.

Those rules are divided into groups of related rules called ‘Parts’.

The two Parts that relate directly to RPAS are:

  • Part 101 Gyrogliders and Parasails, Unmanned Aircraft (including Balloons), Kites, and Rockets - Operating Rules, and
  • Part 102 Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certification.

Operators of RPAS also need to be aware of other rules that affect them, for example Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules.

RPAS Training

Organisation or person approved by the Director to inspect RPAS and approve operations:

Organisation or person approved by the Director to conduct RPAS training:

RPA Skills, Ryan Groves (Part 101)

Massey University (Parts 101 and 102)

Flight Test New Zealand (Part 102)

Model Flying New Zealand (Part 101)

Helicopter Flight Training (HFT) (Part 102)

Part 101

Part 101 only applies to RPAS of 25 kg and under that can fully comply with the rules in Part 101.  To operate any aircraft over this weight, and for operations that cannot comply with Part 101, the operator must be certificated under Part 102.

RPAS weighing between 15 and 25 kg must be constructed or inspected, approved and operated under the authority of a person or association approved for this purpose by the Director of Civil Aviation.

There are 12 key things that are required under Part 101 - you must:

  1. not operate an aircraft that is 25 kg or larger and always ensure that it is safe to operate
  2. at all times take all practicable steps to minimize hazards to persons, property and other aircraft (ie, don’t do anything hazardous)
  3. fly only in daylight
  4. give way to all crewed aircraft
  5. be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (eg, not through binoculars, a monitor, or smartphone) to ensure separation from other aircraft (or use an observer to do this in certain cases)
  6. not fly your aircraft higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level (unless certain conditions are met)
  7. have knowledge of airspace restrictions that apply in the area you want to operate
  8. not fly closer than four kilometres from any aerodrome (unless certain conditions are met)
  9. when flying in controlled airspace, obtain an air traffic control clearance issued by Airways
  10. not fly in special use airspace without the permission of the administering authority of the area (eg, military operating areas or restricted areas)
  11. have consent from anyone you want to fly above
  12. have the consent of the property owner or person in charge of the area you are wanting to fly above.

This list should not substitute for a full reading of Part 101. You should conduct a thorough assessment of your operation and understand the rules that apply to your operation before deciding whether to operate under Part 101 and 102.

To help you in this, we have provided a matrix, which is a checklist to see if you comply with the rules. See Forms. Also see the Advisory Circulars for advice on how to comply with the rules.


Part 101 requires operators to obtain the consent of property owners and people that they are flying over. It is a two step requirement:

  • First, a operator must not use airspace above people unless they have the consent of people below the flight; and
  • Second, an operator must not use airspace above an area of property unless prior consent has been obtained from any persons occupying that property or the property owner;

It is important to note that this is only one aspect of the risk mitigation required in Part 101. There is still an overarching obligation to take all practicable steps to avoid any hazards.

If you cannot obtain consent, or obtaining consent is impractical, it may be a signal that your operation is too hazardous to be conducted under Part 101. You can apply to the CAA to be certificated under Part 102. Part 102 allows the Director of Civil Aviation to work though different options with an operator and/or to relax or remove one or both of the consent requirements altogether.

More information about consent is in the Advisory Circular AC101-1.

Part 102

Part 102 is based on the risk of the operations. Applicants must submit an 'exposition' showing that they have identified hazards and risks of their operation, and ways they will mitigate those risks. Each application will be considered on its merit - this allows for the wide scope of operations made possible by RPAS.

Having determined that you need to be certificated for your type of operation, we have provided some documents to help you. As well as the Part 101 compliance matrix mentioned above, there is an additional one for Part 102 - note that you need to complete both to apply for a Part 102 certificate. There's also a sample exposition that you can copy or use as a template for your exposition. See Forms. Also see the Advisory Circulars for advice on how to comply with the rules.

List of Part 102 Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate Holders

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Safety Guidelines

We are getting into some slightly technical information now, so if you are not familiar with the aviation terms used, we strongly recommend you contact MFNZ for their guidance. For more information about airspace, see AIP New Zealand on our Links page.

See the Advisory Circulars for guidance on safety and how to comply with the rules.

Shielded Operation

A shielded operation is a flight where your aircraft is within 100 m of an object that’s capable of stopping it, like a building, or a forest of trees. In a shielded operation, the aircraft must fly no higher than the top of that object. A shielded operation allows you to fly within 4 km of an aerodrome, controlled and uncontrolled, and at night.

If you plan to use this provision, make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules in Part 101, and the advice in the Advisory Circular.

Controlled Airspace

Graphic showing types of airspace

If you were to just launch your RPAS/model willy-nilly from the backyard, you could unintentionally breach airspace law.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) units authorize the use of airspace near a number of New Zealand aerodromes because of the volume of passenger-carrying airliners.

Airspace is designated for different uses, as shown in the diagram, often referred to as an 'inverted wedding cake'.

If you want to fly a RPAS/model in controlled airspace, you need to get prior authorization from the ATC unit administering that airspace.

Current controlled aerodromes are: Auckland, Blenheim, Christchurch, Dunedin, Gisborne, Hamilton, Invercargill, Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, Ohakea, Palmerston North, Queenstown, Rotorua, Tauranga, Wellington and Whenuapai.

For aerodrome contact details, see the Aerodrome Charts on the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) web site.


Operators of RPAS/model aircraft must not fly them within a four kilometre radius of an aerodrome boundary (even if that radius includes uncontrolled airspace).

Holders of a Part 61 Pilot Licence are exempted from this, as are operators who have received a “Wings” badge from MFNZ, or are accompanied by someone who has. Operators under these categories still need prior authorization from the aerodrome operator to fly within the four kilometre zone.

Even once an operator has authorization, they must not fly their model over any active runway strip, or any area where aircraft taxi. Control line aircraft must also remain clear of such areas.

Special Use Airspace

Sometimes, airspace is designated “Special Use”.

There are specially-designated zones or areas where model aircraft cannot fly, such as a Low Flying Zone, where, as the name suggests, low-level flight training takes place.

On the other hand, some areas are designated specifically for model aircraft flying.

Airspace can also be temporarily designated “Special Use” to help a police, military, or search and rescue operation.

The AIP NZ and Model Flying New Zealand have a full list of airspace designated Special Use.

Visual Navigation Charts

Maps overlaid with airspace, navigational and hazard information, called Visual Navigation Charts, can help a model aircraft operator know where and under what circumstances they can fly.

The charts are available from the AIP shop.

Meteorological Conditions

To fly your aircraft, the weather must be clear enough so you can see three kilometres or further. The model must remain clear of cloud. You cannot fly the model if the cloud base prevents you from seeing it, unaided, at all times.

Night Operations

Aircraft cannot be flown outdoors at night, except if you fly it within 100 m of a structure such as a church or water tower. Flying an aircraft within 100 m of a structure is referred to as a ‘shielded operation’. That’s because no other aircraft would be flying that low and close to such structures. Your aircraft must not fly higher than the top of the construction.


From the Office of the Privacy Commissioner

Model aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft have the potential to be intrusive when fitted with cameras.

Organisations or individuals using such aircraft would have to have a very good reason for collecting personal information in the form of photographs and video, and we would expect them to take care on how the images were used and who they were shown to.

We would expect users to think through the privacy implications of what they intend to use them for. In this regard, many of our guidelines for CCTV use would also apply to many situations in which aircraft are used.

RPAS Frequencies

From Radio Spectrum Management – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

Remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS) must use the right radio frequencies, so they don’t cause harmful interference to vital radio systems such as air traffic control, cellular phones, or emergency services.

People who use the wrong frequencies for their RPAS can be prosecuted under the Radiocommunications Act 1989 and the Radiocommunications Regulations 2001.

The most commonly used frequencies that are legal for RPAS in New Zealand are 433 MHz or 2.4 GHz for remote control, along with 5.8 GHz for video and audio links. RPAS can use any of the frequencies in the General User Radio Licence for Short Range Devices and the General User Radio Licence for Aeronautical Control. These are the only frequencies that RPAS governed under Part 101 are permitted to use in New Zealand.

RPAS must also comply with the licence conditions set out in the General User Licences and the Radiocommunications (Radio Standards) Notice 2015.

Because most RPAS equipment is developed offshore, it often exceeds the radio frequency and radio power limits required in New Zealand, and so it is illegal to possess or use here.

If you intend to buy an RPAS, ask the supplier for evidence of compliance with New Zealand requirements. This will be shown on the product by a supplier code number (SCN) or R-NZ label.

Further information can be found on the Radio Spectrum Management web site www.rsm.govt.nz.

Feedback and Contact Info

If you have any questions about this process, or would like to apply for a Part 102 certificate, please email: rpas@caa.govt.nz.

More Info


The CAA is working closely with Airways, Callaghan Innovation, and aviation participants to promote RPAS/model aircraft safety.

Airways have created a web site, airshare™ to be a hub for RPAS operators, owners, agents and manufacturers.

Seventy five model aircraft clubs operate nationwide. Become a member to take advantage of local knowledge, learn about safe operating practices, and get a better understanding of rule requirements. See www.nzmaa.org.nz.

Free CAA Safety Promotion Products

Email info@caa.govt.nz for a free copy of these products.


New Zealand Airspace poster, A1, Revised Jun 2007

Cover of New Zealand Airspace GAP booklet  New Zealand Airspace (706 Kb)

Good Aviation Practice booklet, Revised Jun 2010

Cover of Plane Talking GAP booklet

Plane Talking (4.4 MB)

Plane Talking is a handy guide to good radio operating practice, and covers the basics of good RTF, equipment, and technique.

Plane Talking should be read in conjunction with  PDF Advisory Circular 91.9 Radiotelephony Manual.

See Publications for more CAA Safety Promotion products.

Auckland Viaduct Harbour RF Survey - Jan 2015

The purpose of this report by Armitage Systems Limited was to address specific interference issues being experienced by Waterfront Auckland and it was not intended to provide general advice to the wider public. It is always recommended that the public seek professional advice before operating any radio transmitter and the contents of this report should not be solely relied upon. Neither Armitage nor Lambda may be held liable by any party for any outcome as a consequence of the publication and dissemination of the report.