Wairoa could emerge as a candidate for unmanned aircraft testing after heated opposition to plans in Central Otago.

Tests need restricted airspace approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, but a public meeting in Alexandra in mid-September ended in what one aviator called a verbal "punch-up" that brought a premature end to a presentation about the aircraft by applicant Michael Read, chief executive of Christchurch-based Skybase NZ.

The northern Hawke's Bay town's airport is now being mooted as an option by a member of flyers group General Aviation Network, although co-principal, amateur flyer and former journalist Brian Mackie, of Puketitiri, says the group is neutral on the issue.

According to Hawke's Bay Today inquiries no application has been made for testing in northern Hawke's Bay, but the area does have air space restrictions for Rocket Lab's launches about 50km east at Mahia.


Wairoa Mayor Craig Little, whose council operates the airport, says he has yet to hear of any official proposal.

It would need to be similar in nature to that of the Central Otago application, which sought a restriction spanning 565sq km from Alexandra to Wedderburn and Gimmerburn.

"We would certainly look at it," Little says, adding that the region does have the attributes identified by the GAA.

Read said he believes the mood in Alexandra was changing towards support for the venture there. Wairoa hadn't yet been considered, he said, but if the community was keen and the location was appropriate it could be looked at for testing for the future.

The proposals revolve around unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — "not drones, but planes", Brian Mackie says.

The Government has identified UAV development as a potential growth industry, he says.

"We believe this idea is worth examining because Wairoa appears to be a safe operating area for the beyond-the-line-of-sight operations of UAVs. It is close to the ocean, has good basic infrastructure, ideal topography for testing, good weather and it lies in a deprived economic area."

The recent meeting in Alexandra was called by Civil Aviation and was attended by about 100 industry representatives and landowners, with some concerns stemming from increasing air traffic in the area and use of its airports and aerodromes.


"We have been following this matter very closely," Mackie says, "because any restriction on airspace has a direct impact on the use of it by general aviation, whether they be recreation pilots or commercial operators such as agriculture-based business.

"The establishment of a central UAV testing site at Wairoa might bring significant economic benefits, and remove stress on other communities facing applications," he says.