Drone testing at airfield shot down

NO FLY ZONE: Bruce Simpson believes he should be able to conduct ground-based testing for his new drone product.
NO FLY ZONE: Bruce Simpson believes he should be able to conduct ground-based testing for his new drone product.

A dogfight has broken out at the Tokoroa Airfield over an aviator's attempt to develop ''breakthrough'' technology.

Bruce Simpson, who rents a hangar at the airfield, said his plan to develop aviation safety technology has been stunted after he was  banned from conducting any tests on the landing strip.

Simpson, an inventor who gained world-wide attention and even US government interest for his work making turbo jets, said he is developing a technology called ''Sense And Avoid'' designed to detect objects in a drone's flight path.

British aerospace giant BAE Systems is one of two major international  companies interested in the product, Simspon said.

But group manager assets Ted Anderson said the council has banned the testing because it is concerned about safety for other users and risk to property.

Simpson said he had his ''wings'' (ability to fly unsupervised) stripped in 2012 when he was held in contempt with Model Flying New Zealand (MFNZ).

The former South Waikato Model Aero Club president said the controversy started when he refused to adopt ''outdated'' rules put forward by MFNZ.

He accepted a memorandum of understanding early this year which would have seen him re-gain permission to fly, but cancelled it when a clause was added last minute.He would not have been able to train others for pilot qualifications.

''I wouldn't have been able to conduct my tests anyway because there are times I need to have someone with me,'' Simpson said.

The electrical engineer then turned to ground-based testing to develop his product.

Utilising the public 2.4ghz radio frequency band, Simpson said the strength of his transmissions were one 60th of the strength used by mobile wifi.

But Civil Aviation Authority senior communications adviser Mike Eng said it was dangerous.

His proposed testing activities may represent a risk to the ability of model jet operators to control and command their aircraft, which are relatively heavy and travel at high speed.

He said the testing could represent a serious risk to public safety.

The council has backed this up, effectively placing a ban on Simpson conducting any tests at the airfield, stating that he can not fly unless he ensures no one will be harmed. 

Simpson said his testing could only be dangerous if model fliers failed to conduct their range tests, as legally required.He argued he could not ensure model fliers' safety if they failed to do so and has taken to Youtube to publicise his case.

South Waikato International Model Club member Gordon Hudson, who is backing Simpson, said he is ''gutted'' at the way Simpson had been treated.

''My concern is the way the council is telling people what they can and cannot do.''

Waikato Times