A judge has ruled that drone pilot Simon Roy Reeve caused danger by flying his 2kg drone when there was a helicopter operating close by at Pines Beach, near Kaiapoi.
But he has found that 38-year-old Reeve did not fly the camera-equipped drone while the helicopter was fighting a fire in a stand of trees.
Judge Gary MacAskill released his reserved decision today, after hearing three days of evidence in the Christchurch District Court trial last month.
Reeve had denied charges of causing unnecessary danger by flying the drone on January 5, 2015, and breaching controlled airspace without permission by flying it on January 5 and 20, 2015.
Judge MacAskill found all three charges proved, convicted Reeve, and remanded him at large – no bail was required – for sentencing. The sentencing may take place in July but no firm date has been settled.
Reeve had been prosecuted by the Civil Aviation Authority. Footage taken by the Phantom II remotely piloted aircraft system – RPAS, or drone – was shown on the television news, and was also shown at the trial.
Judge MacAskill said the evidence showed the drone was not flying in the vicinity of the fire at the time when the helicopter was airborne. He said the drone flew from 3.51pm on January 5, and the helicopter returned to the air with a monsoon bucket at 4.02pm.
The helicopter was not present when Reeve flew the drone in the vicinity of the fire. He accepted Reeve’s evidence that if the helicopter had entered the area, he would have “given way” as required.
But he also said that at one point, the helicopter and the drone would have been about 120m apart.
He ruled that Reeve had caused danger to the helicopter and its pilot at the time of the helicopter’s landing approach. There had been a possibility that the helicopter and drone would collide.
He also found it proved – with evidence from the drone’s videos – that on the two dates the aircraft had intruded into controlled airspace without permission. He said the two intrusions were close to the boundary of the controlled airspace which runs along the high water mark at Pines Beach, and that may mitigate the offence.