Meeting over unmanned aircraft proposal gets heated

T25 and T35 unmanned aircraft with 2.5m and 3.5m wingspans. Photo: Skybase
T25 and T35 unmanned aircraft with 2.5m and 3.5m wingspans. Photo: Skybase
The man heading a proposal to fly unmanned aircraft over restricted airspace covering 500sqkm in Central Otago says the technology is not experimental, but those attending a public meeting in Alexandra yesterday still had significant concerns.

Skybase wants to start commercially testing unmanned aircraft with wingspans from between 2.4m to 5m but within a year wants to be flying aircraft with a wingspan of 12.8m.

It has applied to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to set up an area of restricted airspace spreading from Alexandra to Wedderburn and Gimmerburn, and the CAA hosted last night's meeting in Alexandra as part of consultation on the application.

CAA deputy director general aviation Steve Moore told almost 100 people at the meeting no decision had been made about the application, which has already drawn opposition from some landowners and aircraft users, who have safety concerns and say it would be unfair to restrict other aviators from using the airspace

Mr Moore said safety was the CAA's priority, but public feedback would also be considered, although ''emotive rhetoric without any evidence or facts behind it 

Michael Read.
Michael Read.

really is not helpful to the process''.

But last night's two-hour meeting became heated and emotional quickly, many speakers criticising Skybase chief executive Michael Read personally and also his company's intentions.

Most at the meeting told Mr Read they did not want Skybase to have restricted airspace in Central Otago and testing should be done elsewhere.

Mr Read said the technology was already tested and it would be the commercial applications being tested.

He said there were huge potential benefits to New Zealand from unmanned aircraft technology.

Mr Read and Mr Moore said conditions could be imposed on Skybase's operation, such as operating only at night.

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