Northland pilots are railing over what they say amounts to an attempt to privatise airspace for a company's profit.

About 30 pilots attended a consultation meeting in Kerikeri earlier this month relating to a request by Incredible Skies Ltd to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for a restricted airspace over 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 delivery of medication to people in remote areas or places which are regularly cut off by flooding.


However, the proposal has gone down like a lead balloon with Northland pilots.

Bay of Islands Aeroclub member Gary Mills told the consultation meeting that airspace was a ''common space'' which 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, 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.

The plan amounted to handing over a chunk of New Zealand airspace to private enterprise at the expense of the aviation community, he said.

A proposal to close Hokianga airspace at times so it can be used as a private drone testing range has pilots up in arms. Photo / file
A proposal to close Hokianga airspace at times so it can be used as a private drone testing range has pilots up in arms. Photo / file

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 instead charge for ground-based logistical support.

Mills, however, said the company was being disingenuous by claiming it was charging only for support services, because they would not exist if Incredible Skies did not have rights over the airspace.

The proposed restricted airspace would cover the Hokianga to a height of 3000 feet (915m) as far north as Whangape Harbour and south to Waimamaku. It would include most of Hokianga Harbour as well as Warawara and Waima forests and extend 2km out to sea.

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 prior notice time required and a maximum number of activations.