Pilots up in arms over drone business' request to restrict large swath of Northland airspace

Incredible Skies has applied to the Civil Aviation Authority to have full control of more than 800 square kilometres of airspace to carry out trial deliveries of medical supplies via drone to remote areas.

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The business’ request could see aircraft banned from an area of more than 800 square kilometres. Source: 1 NEWS

If granted, it would see all other aircraft banned from using the area without the company’s permission.

“The idea of a restricted airspace is to, firstly, fly over areas that are not populated and, secondly, to be able to have a space where aircraft know that there is potentially drone operations going on in the area,” said Incredible Skies owner and director Antony Royal.

But the local aviation community has expressed an overwhelming opposition to the proposal.

Members of the Bay of Islands Aeroclub say the airspace is a common space belong to everyone.

“When you think of who owns the water… you also have to stop and say, 'Well, who owns the airspace?” says club member Gary Mills.

At a public meeting in Kerikeri with CAA and Incredible Skies, concerns were raised around administration of the airspace, rescue operations and exploitation.

“If we're called out on a rescue, will you get out of the way so we can save lives?” asked a spokesperson from the Coastguard.

Others called the proposal “an unprecedented control of local airspace”.

There are currently 17 restricted airspaces in New Zealand but most of those are in place for environmental protection reasons. Only three exist for commercial purposes.

Incredible Skies said it won’t be blocking access to the airspace - instead signalling to other aviators that the space will be used by drones.

“Just be aware that it’s going on, check in with us and if you’re wanting to fly in a place that’s nowhere near where we are then that’s no problem whatsoever,” Mr Royal explained.

The company also plans to let the space to other companies wanting to trial drones.

“There have been a number of companies, some from overseas, who have expressed interest in coming to New Zealand but no promises have been made," Mr Royal said.

The CAA is required to take the community's opinions on board and is expected to reach a decision in the next 30 days.