Aotearoa from Above
Access all Areas - Information and Responsibility
With millions now being sold across the world the wealth of new opportunities now offered by the use of drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or even Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) as they are sometimes more officially known, is becoming increasingly more evident.
Whether it is headline grabbing ideas around getting your pizza or online shopping delivered by one, or the far more powerful images of war zones and earthquakes, drones are changing the way we access the world around us and are allowing us to challenge ideas and notions of what our landscape means to us.
Significant developments in worldwide technology are driving a profound change in the way we are able to access our environment and the type of information we are able to gather.
The high quality and low costs involved in using drones means that we are at the beginning of an age where the level of access to both our built and natural environment is far greater and more democratic than previously ever dreamed of; we now have an access all areas pass.
We are now able to fly into and over areas inaccessible by vehicle or foot or too dangerous to send people to. The amount of information we are then able to get is also greatly increased as a result of this access. Not only can we observe our landscape but the amount of data about our physical environment that we can accumulate becomes exponentially more detailed if we have quick, cheap and easy access to it.
There is a lot of interest in the commercial use of drones such as in aerial photography, surveying and engineering. Inspecting and monitoring infrastructure such as large buildings, bridges, reservoirs and roads as well as natural features such as coastline and mountainous areas are all examples of types of landscape that might be difficult or expensive for humans to physically access but that are immediately accessible by drone.
The list of leisure and commercial opportunities provided by drone use and landscape are almost endless but tourism, agriculture, wildlife monitoring, and forestry, as well as those mentioned above are all obvious landscape-related areas which can benefit.
As mentioned previously, drone use arguably also has a democratising effect; it levels the playing field as instead of needing to charter helicopters or aircraft (like governments or big business), information is now available to anyone with a relatively cheap drone and a laptop. It’s also, of course, harder for transgressors to hide adverse effects if they are clearly accessible and able to be seen by a potentially huge audience!
To use the example of the footage with this article, 10 or 20 years ago seeing Lake Pukaki from such an angle would have involved chartering an aircraft, a pilot and a film crew. Even after much time and eye-watering expense, success would not be guaranteed. For example, if it was too cloudy to get a proper view, the film crew and pilot still need to be paid. Today, not only is such footage available very cheaply, easily and immediately by using a drone, it is something that can be done more or less whenever is need. Monitoring changes in topographical or hydrological patterns, for example, or observing other environmental effects can now yield far more detailed and useful data as a result.
The way social media has revolutionised the dissemination of information goes hand in hand with the footage available from drones. Live streaming of events and real-time coverage means that what a landscape or environment looks like is accessible at the click of a button. This can be of huge benefit for monitoring and recording our landscape.
Crucially there comes with this new technology a new responsibility to make this information not only available but also to use it responsibly and in a way that enhances our knowledge of our environment.
It is worth noting that drone use throws up new and challenging issues for us to deal with and potentially legislate for. The potential for invasion of privacy issues, unwanted intrusion into private land and also the disturbance of wildlife are all things that require users to act responsibly.
In terms of effects on the landscape it is the disturbance of wildlife which poses the biggest potential threat. There have been several incidents involving drones intruding into sensitive areas and having negative impacts on wildlife, for example the Department of Conservation (DOC) have had incidents of drones either frightening wildlife or landing in nesting sites of birdlife click here for story. For that reason, the Department of Conservation (DOC) have issued strict guidelines, reinforced by legislation, including the requirement to apply for and obtain a permit to fly drones over DOC land click here for guide to drones on DOC lands
On another level entirely, given the urgency with which climate change is now confronting us, if ever we needed to actually see the physical effects our actions have on our landscape it is now. Thankfully we can now see those effects and share that information thanks in part to the access afforded by drones.
As the old saying goes ‘information is power’. If we as individuals understand the effects that actions and processes are having on our environment we are in a better place to take positive action.
This information is able to reach a vast, international audience, it is therefore incumbent upon us to ensure that the narrative we have to impart is clear, honest and beneficial to our shared landscape.
Although you don’t need a permit or licence to fly a drone (up to a certain size and weight), exactly where you can fly it is carefully controlled. For a quick overview of the rules and regulations in an urban area such as Auckland click here.
It might be a surprise to some that the rules and regulations relating to drones, like all aircraft, are controlled by the Civil Aviation Organisation of New Zealand and more details can be seen here. If in doubt, check first!
Apart from the obvious benefits mentioned above, drones can also pose a serious safety risk, especially in urban areas. They pose a twofold safety issue, to those on the ground and to those sharing air-space with them. If they fail mid-flight they can fall and hit people or property and if they hit, or even near miss, other aircraft the results can be catastrophic. As a result of this, aviation regulators around the world are grappling with how to deal with this new technology, which is probably why you haven’t had your pizza or online shopping delivered by one yet!
Al Newsome 2017.