Air­field drone test­ing shot down

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By PET­RICE TAR­RANT

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.

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