Air New Zealand has called for tighter penalties for operators of unmanned air vehicles that flout the rules, after one of its Boeing 777-200ERs came within five metres of a drone while on approach to Auckland airport on 25 March.

The pilots of the aircraft were operating a flight from Tokyo Haneda with 278 passengers and crew onboard when they spotted the drone within controlled airspace. Flights at the airport were subsequently shut down for 30 minutes.

“The pilots spotted the drone at a point in the descent where it was not possible to take evasive action. It passed so close to the incoming aircraft that they were concerned it may have been ingested into the engine," says the airline’s chief operations integrity and standards officer David Morgan.

An engineering inspection after it landed cleared the aircraft and engines of any foreign object damage.

It is the second incident where an Air NZ aircraft has come close to a UAV operating in controlled airspace.

In September 2015, a UAV came close to an A320 at 6,000ft while it was ascending from Christchurch airport.

A Civil Aviation Authority investigation was dropped a few weeks afterwards after it failed to identify the operator of the UAV.

Under New Zealand regulations, UAV operators who breach operating rules face a potential fine of up to NZ$5000. Morgan says however that this does not provide enough deterrence.

"It's clear the time has now come for tougher deterrents for reckless drone use around airports to safeguard travellers, including imposing prison terms in the case of life-threating incidents," says

Source: Cirium Dashboard