Drone firm may take off else­where

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARK PRICE mark.price@odt.co.nz

THE Christchurch com­pany propos­ing to fly un­manned air­craft over re­stricted airspace in Cen­tral Otago is con­sid­er­ing go­ing else­where.

Sky­base chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Read told the Otago

Daily Times yes­ter­day there were op­tions the com­pany was ‘‘ex­plor­ing at the mo­ment’’.

‘‘If we don’t have the sup­port of the [Cen­tral Otago] com­mu­nity, and the sup­port of the avi­a­tion com­mu­nity, then it doesn’t make sense for us.

‘‘We’re a pro­fes­sional avi­a­tion com­pany; we’re fo­cused on in­tro­duc­ing new game­chang­ing tech­nol­ogy, and if that’s not wel­comed in the area then that’s dis­ap­point­ing, but we’ll look else­where.’’

Mr Read said he will meet Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity (CAA) of­fi­cials on Mon­day to dis­cuss ‘‘the path for­ward’’.

Sky­base has ap­plied to CAA for re­stricted airspace over 500sq km of Cen­tral Otago to al­low test­fly­ing of un­manned air­craft with wing­spans from be­tween 2.4m and 5m, and ul­ti­mately up to 12.8m.

The idea met with heated op­po­si­tion at a meet­ing of 100 peo­ple in Alexan­dra last month, with con­cerns ex­pressed over safety and re­stric­tions on other avi­a­tors.

CAA called for pub­lic sub­mis­sions and they are due to close on Novem­ber 7.

Mr Read said he was not sur­prised at the op­po­si­tion but ‘‘cer­tainly dis­ap­pointed by the lack of de­sire from the avi­a­tion in­dus­try in that re­gion to sup­port it’’.

‘‘I re­ally wanted this to be great for Cen­tral Otago and I hope it still can be, but like­wise we don’t want our team not to feel good or to have so­cial con­flict where we’re try­ing to fo­cus on in­tro­duc­ing new tech­nol­ogy.’’

He said the com­pany had ‘‘re­ally pos­i­tive sup­port else­where’’.

Asked if he might con­sider test­ing in Aus­tralia, Mr Read said: ‘‘We’re a New Zealand com­pany. This is about New Zealand; it’s not about Aus­tralia.’’

A meet­ing of 18 avi­a­tors on Wed­nes­day night unan­i­mously reaf­firmed their op­po­si­tion to Air­base’s pro­posal.

Com­mer­cial op­er­a­tor Doug Maxwell said the group was con­cerned at not be­ing able to work in the re­stricted airspace.

‘‘[For] one com­pany to take a big chunk of airspace for com­mer­cial rea­sons, it’s re­ally un­fair.’’

He did not believe the com­pany had con­sulted the com­mu­nity prop­erly and the pi­lots were ‘‘a bit miffed about the whole deal’’.

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