Surveyors' eye in the sky proves a hit

Hiring a remote control plane to do survey work at Shakespeare Bay was so quick and cheap that Port Marlborough will consider using it to cover more of Picton, port engineer Matthew Preece says.

The port company contracted Auckland-based Synergy Positioning Systems to fly one of their Bramor UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) planes over Shakespeare Bay to take a contour survey of the area in late September.

The work cost about $10,000 and the survey will be used to help improve the efficiency of logging and stormwater drainage at the bay.

Mr Preece said using the plane was cheaper than hiring ground surveyors and the pictures were proving so useful the company would consider using it again.

"It was the first time we'd used it and it was certainly worthwhile. They're cost effective and, given the quality of information, we'll definitely consider them in the future," Mr Preece said.

"It could be used around Picton, particularly Picton Marina to look at the layout and the berth numbers.

"Compared to getting a surveyor, it was really cheap."

Before catapulting the plane into the air, Synergy Positioning technician Louie Schutte programmed a flight path over the bay into it.

The plane relies on GPS technology for navigation.

A battery-powered propeller started at about 100 metres and it took about an hour to photograph the area, covering it in consecutive rows.

"We gave Synergy an outline of the area - benchmark info for the co-ordinates.

"The guys who fly them are trained pilots with a special licence to fly these."

The plane had a 2.3-metre wingspan, was made from kevlar, carbon and vectran, weighed about 3 kilograms and could photograph areas up to 10 square kilometres.

At the end of the run, Mr Schutte shut off the plane's propeller, a parachute opened, and it glided down to a makeshift landing zone at Waitohi Domain.

Mr Preece said Port Marlborough previously relied on survey data from topographical maps supplied by the Marlborough District Council or employed surveyors to wander the area plotting GPS co-ordinates.

The Marlborough Express