Northland pilots are railing aagainst what they say amounts to an attempt to privatise Far North airspace for a company's profit.
About 30 pilots attended a consultation meeting in Kerikeri earlier this month to discuss a request by Incredible Skies Ltd to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for the declaration of restricted airspace over part of the Hokianga.
If the request is granted, the drone research company will be able to close 874sq km of airspace to other users when drones are being tested beyond the operator's line of sight.
Chief executive Robyn Kamira has previously said the Hokianga would make an ideal drone testing range because it was secluded from curious competitors and was large and uncongested, with "enough diverse terrain to provide a challenging environment for those wishing to push the boundaries of drones travelling beyond line of sight".
Applications the company is investigating include the delivery of medication to people in remote areas or places that are regularly cut off by flooding.
However, the proposal has gone down like a lead balloon with Northland pilots.
Bay of Islands Aero Club member Gary Mills told the consultation meeting that airspace was a "common space" that belonged to everyone, while Coastguard questioned how rescues or aerial searches would be carried out if the airspace was closed for drone testing.
In a subsequent letter to the CAA, Mr Mills said the CAA's own guidelines stated there was no justification for establishing restricted airspace where the applicant could gain a commercial advantage, unless there were compelling safety reasons for doing so.
"I suggest you forward this to your legal department for further consideration," he wrote.
"Other legal analysis of this matter may well be taking place on behalf of those opposed to handing over any part of New Zealand airspace to private enterprise at the expense not only of the aviation community, but also members of the wider community who have yet to even be informed of this debate, much less given the opportunity to become involved in the discussion."
The plan amounted to handing over a chunk of New Zealand airspace to private enterprise at the expense of the aviation community, he said.
Incredible Skies director Antony Royal told the meeting the company wouldn't block access to the airspace. Rather, the restrictions would signal to other aviators that the space was being used for drone testing, and there would be no problem flying in an area that was far from the trial.
The company would not charge other firms to use the airspace, but would charge for ground-based logistical support.
Mr Mills, however, said it was disingenuous to claim the company was charging only for support services, because those services would not exist if Incredible Skies did not have rights over the airspace.
The proposed restriction would cover the Hokianga as far north as Whangape Harbour and south to Waimamaku, including most of the harbour, as well as Warawara and Waima forests, to a height of 3000 feet.
CAA spokesman Blake Crayton-Brown said the director of Civil Aviation was still working through Incredible Skies' application, and any decision could still be months away.
Any restrictions would only be imposed as needed for drone trials, and would require a formal notice of activation, alerting pilots of potential hazards.
The CAA could place conditions on restricted airspace, such as the prior notice time required and a maximum number of activations.