Drone firm may take off elsewhere
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’’.