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Airways New Zealand has announced it is piloting future technologies needed to support the arrival of autonomous flying vehicles in New Zealand airspace. This follows confirmation by Zephyr Airworks that it will develop and test its air taxi, called Cora, in New Zealand.
The air navigation services provider will develop a nationwide unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) traffic management system, known as UTM, to enable drone activity across New Zealand airspace as well as integrate these vehicles safely into the national air traffic network.
Airways CEO Graeme Sumner says, “There is no doubt that technology is evolving and Airways’ role is to enable safe and flexible access to our airspace to allow these new industries to thrive.
“New Zealand’s regulatory environment and relatively uncongested airspace make us an attractive option for new operators. We are looking for ways to safely support more complex operations and facilitate new entrants, including the Zephyr Airworks’ autonomous aircraft, into our skies.”
The trial of the AirMap drone traffic management platform currently underway in Canterbury and Queenstown is the first step in this development. AirMap allows drone pilots to plan their flights, seek authorisations and get information about the areas they’re operating in.
The next phase Airways is planning is to develop tracking tools that allow UAVs to be accurately monitored once they are beyond the pilot’s line of site and detect and avoidance capability to keep them safely separated from other aircraft.
Airways also intends to test the capabilty of New Zealand’s existing telecommunications network to track the likes of Zephyr Airworks’ autonomous vehicle Cora and UAVs in uncontrolled airspace and enable better telemetry for drone pilots.
Airways has had significant experience working with new entrants to New Zealand’s airspace. Over the past four years the air traffic controller has developed an advanced launch services programme, enabling more than 120 stratospheric balloon launches for organisations including NASA and Google and has facilitated RocketLab’s ambitious rocket launch programme.