Airspace bid submission period may be extended

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PAM.JONES

@alliedpress.co.nz

THE submission period for an application for a restricted airspace in Central Otago in which to fly unmanned aircraft may be extended after strong opposition to the proposal.

Skybase wants to start commercially testing unmanned aircraft with wingspans ranging from 2.4m to 5m in a 500sq km airspace stretching from Alexandra to the Maniototo. Later, the company wants to fly aircraft with a wingspan of 12.8m.

But the proposal has been opposed by many landowners and aviation operators in Central Otago, and a public meeting held in Alexandra on Tuesday night was heated and emotional.

Steve Moore, deputy director-general aviation of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which hosted the meeting, told the almost 100 people there that no decision had been made about the application and safety was the CAA’s priority. He said public feedback would also be considered, although “emotive rhetoric without any evidence or facts behind it really is not helpful to the process”.

But there was overwhelming opposition at the meeting to Skybase having a restricted airspace in Central Otago and a belief testing should be done elsewhere.

Skybase chief executive Michael Read said the technology had been tested and was safe.

It would be tested for commercial applications, including top-dressing, which was why testing needed to be done over an agricultural area.

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

Submissions on the proposal were initially going to close next Wednesday, but many at the meeting said they planned to make submissions opposing Skybase’s application and asked for the submission period to be extended.

CAA team leader flight operations adventure aviation Paula Moore said the CAA would announce this week if the submission deadline would be extended.