New mapping pilot will keep feet firmly on the ground

Who would have thought flying model aircraft might one day be a job? But by the end of this month, one of 20 Otago applicants for just such a job will be starting work.

Cromwell surveying and planning company BTW South Ltd is looking for someone to fly its $90,000, radio-controlled fixed-wing aircraft over the farms it has contracts to map.

Company director Mike Borthwick told the Otago Daily Times the company had advertised locally and received 20 applications from between Alexandra and Queenstown.

''I'm surprised at how overrun I have been with applicants.''

BTW bought its TopoDrone-100 aircraft made by Adelaide company DroneMetrex in May to help map large-scale farms for new irrigation systems.

The aircraft requires two people to operate: one to look after the flying and the other to deal with the on-board GPS survey equipment and camera.

Mr Borthwick said two company staff members had trained in Australia in December to fly the aircraft, but their time was better spent with the survey equipment.

''This gives the opportunity for someone experienced in flying model aircraft to get paid to do what they love to do.''

And the job does not sound too onerous.

The plane, with a wingspan of 2m, does pretty much everything on auto pilot and follows a predetermined flight path.

The pilot's main job will be to take over if there is a problem.

''Like any technology, you only trust it so far,'' Mr Borthwick said.

''You have to have someone who can fly it if something goes wrong or if an aircraft comes into your survey area.''

The aircraft is worth about $20,000, with the rest of the cost in the survey equipment it carries.

Mr Borthwick said it was not insured.

The company was one of only two South Island survey companies using a remote-controlled aircraft but it was probably the first time a dedicated pilot had been sought.

Mr Borthwick said the company had been through an accreditation process with the Civil Aviation Authority to be able to fly its aircraft under model aircraft rules.

CAA is in the process of establishing rules for remote-controlled aircraft.

Using the aircraft greatly reduced the cost of farm mapping, Mr Borthwick said, turning a four-day survey job using motorcycles into a two-hour job.

Using the remote-controlled aircraft was also much cheaper and produced a more accurate result than using a conventional aircraft.

''The big thing at the moment is the efficient use of water; so this gives irrigation designers the tool they need to be able to design the irrigation to best fit the property in the most cost-efficient way and the most water-friendly way.''