Airfield drone testing shot down
A dogfight has broken out at the Tokoroa Airfield over one controversial aviator’s attempt to develop ‘‘ breakthrough’’ technology.
Bruce Simpson, who has rented a hangar at the airfield for 10 years, said his plan to develop aviation safety technology has been stunted after he was effectively banned from conducting any tests on the landing strip.
‘‘I’m the only business operating at the airfield, now they [council] have told me I can’t test my aircraft.’’
Simpson, an inventor who gained attention for making XJets, said he is developing a technology called Sense And Avoid designed to detect objects in a drone’s flight path.
BAE Systems is one of two major international aerospace companies interested in the product, Simspon said.
But group manager assets Ted Anderson said the council has banned the testing because it is concerned about safety for other users and risk to property.
Simpson said he had his ‘‘ wings’’ ( ability to fly unsupervised) stripped in 2012 when he was held in contempt with Model Flying New Zealand.
The former South Waikato Model Aero Club president said the controversy started when he refused to adopt ‘‘ outdated’’ rules put forward by MFNZ.
‘‘ I called them a bunch of grumpy old men and they didn’t like that.’’
In an ‘‘unprecedented’’ move, Simpson was stripped of his membership and therefore his wings.
He accepted a memorandum of understanding early this year which would have seen him regain permission to fly, but cancelled it when a clause was added last minute.
He would not have been able to train others for pilot qualifications.
‘‘I wouldn’t have been able to conduct my tests anyway because there are times I need to have someone with me,’’ Simpson said.
The electrical engineer then turned to ground-based testing to develop his product.
Utilising the public 2.4ghz radio frequency band, Simpson said the strength of his transmissions were one 60th of the strength used by mobile wifi. But Civil Aviation Authority senior communications adviser Mike Eng said it was dangerous.
‘‘His proposed testing activities may represent a risk to the ability of model jet operators to control and command their aircraft, which are relatively heavy and travel at high speed.’’
He said the testing could rep- resent a serious risk to public safety.
‘‘To continue model flying and testing he could take his operations at least 4 kilometres from the aerodrome.’’
The council has backed this up, effectively placing a ban on Simpson conducting any tests at the airfield, stating that he can not fly unless he ensures no one will be harmed.
Simpson said he would like to know how the CAA is managing the average smartphone user dialling up at the airfield.
‘‘ Given that these [ smartphones] transmit at higher levels than I intend for my testing, and given that they [CAA] consider the risk from such transmissions to be unacceptably high, what are they doing to preserve public safety from these potential sources of interference?’’
Simpson said his testing could only be dangerous if model fliers failed to conduct their range tests, as legally required.
He argued he could not ensure model fliers’ safety if they failed to do so and has taken to Youtube to publicise his case.
He said it is disappointing the council seems to be giving priority to a half-dozen or so visitors who come just once a month to fly their RC models over supporting a local business.
South Waikato International Model Club member Gordon Hudson, who is backing Simpson, said he is ‘‘gutted’’ at the way Simpson had been treated.
‘‘ My concern is the way the council is telling people what they can and cannot do.’’
No-fly zone: Bruce Simpson believes he should be able to conduct ground-based testing for his new drone product.