NZ to host drone trials in dedicated airspace

A New Zealand tech company has been cleared by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to host drone trials in the country’s newest 874 sq km restricted airspace, dubbed ‘Incredible Skies’.

Paua Interface already has permissions from landowners underneath the projected flight paths and its chief executive Robyn Kamira said the space is the first fit-for-purpose test range of its kind in New Zealand.

“The location in Northland’s Hokianga region offers a high degree of seclusion from curious competitors and is large and uncongested, with enough diverse terrain to provide a challenging environment for those wishing to push the boundaries of drones travelling beyond line of sight.”

New Zealand regards its regulatory environment for drones as progressive compared to those in the Northern Hemisphere which faces greater security considerations. The CAA recently paved the way for New Zealand’s first beyond line of sight flight with a new regulatory framework which has opened NZ airspace to unmanned air vehicles operated by remote, ground based pilots working under strict conditions.

In combination with the new framework, the Incredible Skies test range provides an opportunity to extend drone technology research in New Zealand and internationally and the CAA is highly supportive.

“The CAA is keen to ensure the right balance of safety regulation whilst providing support and a focus on the future of this emerging sector. The CAA believes that with appropriate levels of collaboration between industry and the regulator, drone technology has the potential to contribute substantially to a thriving aviation sector, and both regional and national economies,” said Mark Houston, CAA senior technical specialist.

Paua said it is already fielding inquiries from international companies, some of whom want to partner with New Zealand businesses that are already certified to operate under the new regulations. The CAA allows operators from anywhere in the world to apply to operate in New Zealand airspace.

There are around 90 New Zealand operators with the credentials to apply to fly beyond line of sight. The Incredible Skies airspace will provide new testing opportunities for them but Kamira says there are significant financial barriers to overcome.

“New Zealand’s UAV sector has the technological and scientific capacity, and a sound regulatory environment, but it’s competing with overseas companies which can attract large investments which Kiwis simply don’t have access to. The sector needs support to position itself globally to access more research and business development funding”.

The first Incredible Skies trials will test technologies that enable drone medical delivery and crisis support. The trials aim to explore the safe delivery of medicines, beyond visual line of sight flight, autonomous flight, and integration with other airspace users such as planes and recreational users.

Paua is calling for drone companies and technologists to apply to take part in upcoming trials or schedule their own by visiting the Incredible Skies website.

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