Buying a drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)
If you’re thinking of buying a drone or RPA to use in New Zealand, there are a few requirements you need to meet.
When you fly a drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in New Zealand, you operate it under one of two general user licences:
- General User Radio Licence for Short Range Devices, and
- General User Radio Licence for Aeronautical Model Control Short Range Devices.
General user licences are free licences that regulate the use of a range of devices, such as drones, Wi-Fi and blue-tooth devices, and radio microphones.
You don’t need to apply for a general user licence, you just need to:
- know that you’re covered by this licence automatically, and
- make sure that your equipment — and how you use it — meets the requirements of the licence.
Most importantly, this means that you must operate your drone or RPA on the right radio frequencies, as listed on the licence. The most commonly used frequency bands that are legal for drone/RPA use in New Zealand are:
- 433 MHz or 2.4 GHz for remote control
- 5.8 GHz for video and audio links.
If you don’t fly a drone or RPA on the correct frequency, you risk causing harmful interference to vital radio systems like aeronautical radio navigation systems, cellular phones, or emergency services. If that happens, you could face prosecution under the Radiocommunications Act 1989, and the Radiocommunications Regulations 2001.
What to look for when you’re buying a drone or RPA
Currently, most drone and RPA equipment is developed overseas. This means that it often exceeds the frequency and power limits required for use under the general user licences here. You need to check that any product you buy can legally be used in New Zealand before you go ahead and make a purchase.
Ask the supplier to show you evidence that the drone or RPA complies with New Zealand requirements. This is usually shown by either an RCM or R-NZ label applied to the product. Most New Zealand-based suppliers ensure that their products are compliant. You may need to do a bit more research if you’re thinking about buying a drone or RPA from an online or overseas supplier.
The AirShare website provides information for RPA and drone users in New Zealand.
You can also check with your local council for maps and information about where you can safely fly in your area.