New Zealand authorities are investigating the near miss of a drone with a New Zealand Police Eagle Airbus AS355F1 on Jan. 1.
Shortly after midnight on New Year's, the Eagle pilot flying below 1,400 feet over Spaghetti Junction saw a drone "flying in extremely close proximity to Eagle — within 10 meters — and as a result the pilot took immediate evasive action to avoid a serious collision," New Zealand Police said in a statement. In addition, two other drones may have been flying in the area, police said.
While police briefly suspended Eagle operations as a precaution, the helicopter has returned to service.
New Zealand Police are investigating the matter with the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.
“Our Police helicopter is responsible for saving lives and keeping our community safe," Auckland City Police Inspector Jim Wilson said in a statement. "The actions of these people in flying a drone dangerously close to the Eagle helicopter is totally irresponsible, and police will investigate thoroughly. This could easily have ended in a tragedy, and it is a worrying reminder of the dangers of flying drones near other aircraft.”
The incident comes less than two weeks after several drones disrupted operations for 36 hours at Gatwick Airport, London's second largest.
A U.K. law went into effect last July 30 that makes it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail to fly a drone within one kilometer of an airport or airfield boundary or to fly a drone above 400 feet.
Much of the discussion around the Gatwick incident reflected the belief that the drone disruption of operations was deliberate, a conclusion based on what U.K. authorities called the industrial specifications of the drones.
Some safety experts in the United States are calling for state laws akin to a new federal law, 18 U.S.C. 39B, Unsafe Operation of Unmanned Aircraft, to give local police the immediate ability to arrest drone operators who use their vehicles in such a manner.