Wisk, Partners Complete Uncrewed Flight Trials In New Zealand

The trial flights were operated remotely by Insitu Pacific using CTA-220 drones.

Credit: Wisk Aero

A team of government and industry partners led by Wisk Aero has announced the successful completion of a series of unmanned flight trials in New Zealand, part of an effort to demonstrate the safe integration of uncrewed aircraft in controlled airspace.

The flight trials were organized as part of the New Zealand government’s Airspace Integration Trial Program (AITP), a multiphase initiative that aims to ensure the safe integration of uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).

All told, the latest phase of the AITP involved eight flights over a two-week period, including a shakedown flight, which totaled 28 hr. in the air, 21 hr. of which were spent in controlled airspace, according to Wisk. The beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights were operated under instrument flight rules (IFR) and supervised by a team on the ground, which communicated with New Zealand regulators numerous times regarding safe deconfliction with other nearby piloted aircraft, says Catherine MacGowan, Wisk’s VP of Asia-Pacific and Air Operations.

Led by Wisk, the trials were conducted in partnership with the New Zealand government and industry partners including Insitu Pacific, which operated the remotely piloted CTA-220 UAS; the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of New Zealand as regulatory observer; air navigation service provider Airways New Zealand; and Tawhaki, an indigenous-led aerospace group that provided the flight testing site at the Tawhaki National Aerospace Center at Kaitorete.

The trials also used AirShare, an urban air traffic management solution developed by Airways International, the commercial arm of Airways New Zealand.

Through the trial flights, the partners were able to generate “heaps of data” about processes related to safely integrating UAS in controlled airspace, which can be used to inform the New Zealand CAA and other global regulators as they craft their own rules and procedures, MacGowan says.

The initiative comes as Wisk works to develop its fully autonomous Generation 6 passenger electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle, which is targeted at entry into service toward the end of the decade. As Wisk develops its aircraft, it is also testing through a variety of simulation and modeling, as well as surrogate platforms including helicopters and small drones like the CTA-220, to develop processes related to safely accessing controlled airspace.

“We’re using the trials to help us figure out the regulatory pathways, the approval process, the safety case, and all of the things that we need to develop with the regulator to unlock remotely piloted flight,” MacGowan says. “We’re also seeing a great deal of interest in cooperation between regulators, so the New Zealand CAA will be sharing the lessons we’ve learned with global partners through a variety of industry and regulatory forums.”

MacGowan says Wisk views the Asia-Pacific region as ripe for advanced air mobility (AAM), citing the region’s dense urban areas, high levels of economic growth, mountainous terrain and numerous island chains.

She also says that governments in the region appear to be eager to integrate autonomous aircraft.  

“We’re talking to governments and city planners across the region, and they’re all very excited to combine different transit modes with advanced air mobility and autonomy,” MacGowan says. “We see an opportunity to help them create truly connected and sustainable cities, and we’re really excited about that.”

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.