Drone taxis in your city: How NZ could be world leader in multi-billion dollar industry

JOHN WEEKES/STUFF
Figuring out how to make drones at home in the existing transport landscape: The Government and aviation groups ask how the industry can soar above challenges.

Drones could soon be ferrying commuters around New Zealand skies and performing a bigger range of tasks too dangerous for humans.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were potentially worth $7.9 billion to the country's economy, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said as drones went on show in Auckland on Wednesday.

Managing the industry's growth and generating export dollars were discussed as Twyford and UAV innovators unveiled the Government's drone plan.

Drones could add billions to New Zealand's economy in upcoming years, public agencies say.
BRETT PHIBBS/PHOTOSPORT
Drones could add billions to New Zealand's economy in upcoming years, public agencies say.

Linda Bulk and Rob Brouwer​ from Raglan-based industrial drone designers Aeronavics said they welcomed the Government's "Taking Flight" plan, and the current environment needed changes.

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Brouwer said it was "completely outrageous" that some cheap consumer imports were not properly regulated, and marketed to consumers as having a 7km range.

Drones on show at Victoria Park included the octorotor Drone Sprayer, used for roof cleaning, liquid fertiliser drops and aerial mapping.
BRETT PHIBBS/PHOTOSPORT
Drones on show at Victoria Park included the octorotor Drone Sprayer, used for roof cleaning, liquid fertiliser drops and aerial mapping.

"They should be geo-fenced to within a couple of hundred metres from the controller."

Bulk told Stuff her company and other local innovators were getting some financial support from the Government through research and development grants and working with Callaghan Innovation.

But she said public agencies sometimes seemed "risk averse" when it came to supporting home-grown drone innovators.

Phil Twyford and Trent Fulcher at the drone event at Auckland's Victoria Park.
BRETT PHIBBS/PHOTOSPORT
Phil Twyford and Trent Fulcher at the drone event at Auckland's Victoria Park.

Trent Fulcher, from Airways subsidiary Airshare, said Kiwis should plan about how to manage "drones doing more advanced things, like carrying humans".

Twyford said New Zealand's forestry, farming and conservation sectors already used drones and the country could be a world leader in the technology.

Asked about rogue UAVs pestering aircraft, Twyford would not say if he favoured shooting problematic drones out of the sky, but said misuse should be penalised.

77,000 drones are in use nationally, Minister of Transport Phil Twyford says.
123RF
77,000 drones are in use nationally, Minister of Transport Phil Twyford says.

Twyford said it would "take some time" to get regulations right and the ministry was currently in talks about potential powers for law enforcement to detain drones.

Richard Cross from the Ministry of Transport said some parts of New Zealand were already considered "drone friendly" but there might be scope to discuss more areas reserved for the exclusive use of UAVs.

Cross said the ministry wanted to engage with the public and private sectors to work out "concrete proposals" for managing the drone industry's future.

Linda Bulk and Rob Brouwer from Raglan-based industrial drone designers Aeronavics says commercial drone opeartors will always adhere to regulations.
JOHN WEEKES/STUFF
Linda Bulk and Rob Brouwer from Raglan-based industrial drone designers Aeronavics says commercial drone opeartors will always adhere to regulations.

Among the drones on display was the octorotor​ "Drone Sprayer" from Mt Wellington company Agricultural Drone Services Ltd.

The machine's blades and eight arms, or spars, were made of carbon fibre.

The Florida-designed machine could carry 20 litres and perform jobs such as safely cleaning roofs.

​The Taking Flight plan said drones would be likely to carry out expensive and dangerous jobs such as power line inspection and work for the emergency services.

Farmers could use drones to manage stock and crops, and UAVs could improve rural freight delivery, the new plan added.

The Government said Taking Flight aimed to ensure the drone sector thrived, was innovative and was safe.

"Our objective is to safely integrate drones into the NZ aviation system and ultimately into an integrated system," the plan added. 

Stuff