A Phantom drone by DJI company, equipped with a camera, flies during the 4th Intergalactic Meeting of Phantom's Pilots (MIPP) in an open secure area in the Bois de Boulogne, western Paris, March 16, 2014. Reuters/Charles Platiau

New Zealand’s Transport Minister Simon Bridges has rejected pleas from the nation’s pilots' association for tougher rules limiting the operation of aerial drones following a series of near collisions with passenger aircrafts.

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) requested an investigation of the near collision near Kaiapoi between an Air New Zealand A320 with 166 passengers en route from Christchurch to Auckland, and a drone at an altitude of about 6,000 feet (1,829 metres).

NZALPA said the drone was flying above the legal height limits designated for drones. The pilots' union was concerned about loose regulatory norms and wanted more stringent rules for aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Bridges, however, said existing rules were sufficient and that changes weren’t necessary or desirable. Flying drones above 400 feet is banned and has been illegal since 1997.

"It wouldn't actually have affected this concerning incident that we've had over the weekend because look, the regulations already make such kind of conduct unlawful and there's an effective penalty regime to deal with that,” Bridges said, as reported by Radio New Zealand.

Bridges claimed the rules have the right balance between combating the risks from drones and accommodating the aviation industry’s safety concerns. With regards the Kaiapo incident, chief executive Samantha Sharif of Aviation New Zealand said she doubts the Air New Zealand pilots saw a drone at that high altitude and must have seen something else.

“The rotor wing drones -- even with the large commercial units -- their limit of operation would be about half the height that we're talking about here,” said Sharif.

NZALPA has demanded the compulsory installation of "see-and-avoid" technology in drones, and asked for drones to be painted with differentiating markings to avoid risks of collision. The union also requested additional educational programs for drone operators in New Zealand.

Drones are widely used in scientific research, agriculture and watershed management. New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority last August drafted new rules for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The new regulations state operators will have to design a safety plan and secure permission from owners of the properties over which they intend to fly.

Tim Whittaker, a professional drone operator, said only a few amateur operators are defaming the industry. He confirmed amateurs must be restricted to a flight ceiling of 200 feet. The rules are mainly focused on associated risks with high performance unnamed aircraft, reports NZHerald.

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