Wings Over Wairarapa will include NZ's first drone trade show

FUTURE OF AVIATION: Callaghan Innovation's Chris Thomson and Yamaha's Geoff Lamb set up Yamaha's drone for New Zealand's ...
CALEB HARRIS / Fairfax NZ

FUTURE OF AVIATION: Callaghan Innovation's Chris Thomson and Yamaha's Geoff Lamb set up Yamaha's drone for New Zealand's first drones trade show, at Wings Over Wairarapa this weekend.

The task of launching Wings Over Wairarapa today has fallen to a sometimes controversial, always hard-working device labelled the future of world aviation.

While the airshow has a strong historical focus and features rare, vintage World War I planes, this year it will also gaze into the future with the country's first trade show for remotely piloted aircraft systems, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.

The "Shared Skies" symposium at Masterton's Copthorne Hotel today is the Royal Aeronautical Society's 30th and will look at how the devices can enrich the country's aviation system.

A two-day trade show will follow over the weekend at Wings, where the hi-tech devices will feature among many flight displays.

Drones have been controversially used for military and surveillance purposes but Wings director Tom Williams said they should be recognised as a crucial technological watershed, and not just for aviation. "I think [drones] are the tractors of this millennium - we will see a dramatic increase in their use."

About 200 people registered for today's pow-wow, hosted by Crown research institution Callaghan Innovation, Aviation NZ and drones industry body Unmanned Aerial Vehicles NZ. Callaghan Innovation aviation sector manager Chris Thomson said the aim was to maximise major competitive advantages over nations such as the USA. "It's the open access to airspace, big, sparsely populated areas, smaller government agencies that are easier to engage with and more progressive, [and] some really advanced tech companies . . . we're asking, could New Zealand be this world-leading test bed for this technology?"

A draft report on the potential economic benefit of drones estimated their combined worth to just three sectors - pasture management, forestry and electricity lines inspections - at up to $160 million a year, he said.

Uses included identifying diseased trees, power-line insulation breakages and patches of pasture lacking nitrogen or being overgrazed.

Drones could be dispatched automatically, upload and analyse data and and recommend vital, revenue-increasing action to a farmer before he or she had left the breakfast table, he said.

They were also used in many other fields, such as filming during the cricket test in Wellington earlier this month, and search and rescue operations.

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The symposium would also discuss safety rules and insurance issues. Rules for drone operation were enforced by the CAA and assessed on a case-by-case basis with low-level use over crowds or built-up areas requiring more stringent back-up security measures than, for example, use in remote, unpopulated areas. But the focus today would be on grabbing opportunities, he said.

"What we're trying to do is build this culture of innovative companies to come through and have a crack . . . creating commercial impact for New Zealand."

The symposium runs from 9am to 5.30pm today and the trade show continues during Wings Over Wairarapa at Masterton's Hood Aerodrome until Sunday. More information: www.airshare.co.nz/ www.wings.org.nz

ATTRACT OF THE DRONES

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently named agricultural drones as its number one technological breakthrough for 2014, saying cheap, user-friendly drones with advanced sensors and cameras would change farming practices.

Here, the CAA receives about 40 inquiries a week from people looking to work with drones, while Callaghan Innovation knows of about 60 current commercial operators, with a core of around 12 companies actively developing the technology for industrial use.

Research has estimated the impact of drone technology on the USA economy at $82 billion by 2025.

 - The Dominion Post

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