Chch Airport welcomes testing of autonomous air travel

Posted March 14, 2018

The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.

And New Zealand appears pretty keen to have Kitty Hawk flying around its country, presumably because its bored of being known as a nation full of sheep, hills and Hobbiton.

Kitty Hawk will set up its New Zealand operations through a local subsidiary called Zephyr Airworks.

The aircraft, called Cora, has a 10-metre wingspan, is propelled by 12 electric rotors and can carry two passengers for a distance of 100km. Kitty Hawk said it doesn't have a specific timeline for that.

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The team found its Kitty Hawk in New Zealand, where regulators are apparently into the firm's all-electric, renewable-energy mission.

The autonomous aircraft was shown Monday by aviation company Kitty Hawk, which has received substantial support from the Alphabet CEO and former Google co-founder.

Included in the company's fact sheet about Cora: what the air taxi will do if its propellers fail in midair.

The flying machine is entirely electric, emission-free, and can fly at speeds in excess of 150 kph (more than 93 mph) and up to 100 kilometers (62 miles), according to the company. The plane's launch and test run were showcased in a YouTube video published by Kitty Hawk.

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In a statement the company said Cora can "take off like a helicopter and transition to flying like a plane".

Federal Aviation Administration rules would have made it hard to get a project like this off the ground in the United States.

However, New Zealand is being viewed as having a regulatory regime which is safety conscious. There is also the capability for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) which looks like it can open transportation options ranging from commuter services to drone deliveries. In November, Boeing acquired Aurora Flight Sciences.

It hopes to make the vehicles commercially available in New Zealand within three years. Considering it took eight years to reach this stage, and that it's in competition with several other air taxi manufacturers like Uber Elevate, Airbus, Ehang and others, it's not likely that information will be made public anytime soon.

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