Once the stuff of science fiction and
The Jetsons cartoon series, small
aircraft ‘taxis’ could be operating
commercially in New Zealand skies
within six years, calling for a regulatory
approach the Civil Aviation Authority
(CAA) believes will be “unique within
the global aviation environment”.
Last month, it was revealed that a new
type of autonomous, electric ‘flying
car’ prototype named Cora had been
covertly tested in Canterbury since
October last year. The trial attracted
considerable media and public
attention, including an enthusiastic
Government who’d helped to get the
trial literally off the ground.
The Cora prototype can carry two
passengers and will be flown by
self-piloting software with human
oversight from the ground. It has a
range of about 100 kilometres and
travels up to 150kmh. Cora’s lift
propellers cut out once the vehicle
gets up to speed, meaning the vehicle
is quiet in flight.
Commenting on the trial, NZALPA
President Tim Robinson said
that while NZALPA supports the
development of new technology and
innovation in the industry, “We need
to remain vigilant to ensure that
this technology integrates into our
industry and airspace safely and in a
This will also mean working with
government agencies on both
regulation and workforce matters.
“NZALPA supports new advancements
in technology and realises the
opportunities that they can bring. As
with any new technology, we want
to make sure that its introduction is
appropriately managed to minimise
any safety risks and risks to pilots and
air traffic controllers,” Robinson said.
Cora’s backers had been talking with
New Zealand officials for over 18
months, with multiple government
agencies working to pave the way
for the trial. For its part, CAA was
working to “define a bespoke set
of certification requirements” to
be applied to Zephyr Airway’s first
commercial operation - an approach
believed by Deputy Director of
General Aviation, Steve Moore, to be
unique within the market.
Moore told a Stuff reporter that the
2015 Civil Aviation Rule on unmanned
vehicles provided a legal framework
and a “sound basis” for operating
unmanned aerial vehicles but
there were “significant” regulatory
challenges still being worked through
around how a service would share
airspace with other aircraft and how
the rules would work when the vehicle
was out of sight of those overseeing it.
The project is backed by the US-based
Kitty Hawk Corporation, with those
involved in its development including
former staff from Google (including the
so-called ‘Godfather’ of the driverless
car), NASA, Boeing and Honeywell.
The New Zealand operator is Zephyr
Airworks, headed by Fred Reid. With
a long career in aviation, Reid is the
former Chief Executive of Virgin
America and President of both
Lufthansa and Delta Air Lines.
Their intention is for people to
eventually use the flying vehicle
for trips they typically take by car,
to combat the growing problem of
vehicle congestion on the ground.
Both Kitty Hawk and Zephyr are
convinced this new type of vehicle is
the future of
told Stuff that
“10 or 20 years
A Kitty Hawk
spokesperson said that, compared to
road traffic and frequent congestion
in many cities, “The air is incredibly big
and incredibly empty.”
Reid said he envisages his vehicles
initially operating as a fleet managed
by Zephyr Airworks, running on set
routes under close supervision.
Even though this type of vehicle has
never been certified for commercial
use anywhere in the world, Kitty
Hawk are not the only ones who see
potential in an unmanned air taxi.
Reportedly Uber are working towards
a trial of an air taxi service in Los
Angeles, Dallas and Dubai by 2020.
German drone company Volocopter
started unmanned test flights last
September and Airbus plan to test air
taxi prototypes by the end of the year.
To read more about the trial and view
the video see HERE.
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