This article is an excerpt from a larger article on Aerospace Christchurch website, linked here
Using flight autonomy to Take the Pilot out of the Plane, saving people and the planet.
Skybase is an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) company, founded in Christchurch in 2017, by highly qualified aviation experts with extensive military and civil aerospace technology development experience. The founding team of Michael, Maēlle, and Eric has cumulatively over 65 years in the aerospace industry.
Skybase are currently flight testing our market-entry product, called SOFI, to ‘Take the Pilot out of the Plane’ by upgrading existing aeroplanes to give them ‘drone capabilities’. Why do this? There are thousands of aeroplanes which sit on the ground for more than half of the time, particularly in Agriculture and Aerial Firefighting. The aircraft are limited to flying in daytime and in fine weather, making the return on investment for aircraft operators much slower than necessary.
By unlocking flight at night or poor weather, SOFI delivers double the utilisation of the same aeroplane, thereby increasing food-crop production and decreasing carbon emissions from wildfires. SOFI offers a big opportunity for aircraft operators to gain more than 180% increase (i.e. nearly triple) in bottom-line profitability, plus a massive increase in safety for the pilot, who is now safely monitoring the ‘aeroplane-drone’ from the ground and not being exposed to spray or smoke. To minimise downside risk, the original features of the aircraft are preserved, so whenever required, customers can still fly their aircraft the ‘traditional’ way by leaving SOFI in the ‘off’ position. Skybase expects to have their first customers flying their SOFI-equipped aircraft in 2023, in many countries around the world.
We had a chat to Skybase Founder Michael Read.
What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector?
Fundamentally we’re an incubation nation, so the ability to take your idea and test to see if it’s going to work. Craftiness and ingenuity in early stages means you can quickly see whether your idea is going to work. Because this is a first world country with a first world regulator, you can test your product and your processes in a manner that is consistent with how your market will do it. By virtue of population size, the problems that aerospace products solve here are very scalable, making New Zealand, and in particular Christchurch, which has a lot of manufacturing businesses an ideal hub for aerospace.
The next phase of growth for what we’re going to see in Christchurch is the first manufacturing facility for an aerospace company. That’s likely to happen in the next few years, where there will be one or two companies that get approval to manufacture products to go into aeroplanes or helicopters. There are other companies that manufacture products in aerospace, but getting a certified product requires a particular type of manufacturing facility. There are only a handful of these kinds of factories around the world, and because of the rigorous, costly certification processes they are generally very busy. Once you have that kind of manufacturing facility operating locally, it’s a very good indication of the strength of the industry and its potential for growth.
Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub?
New Zealand is an ideal place for aerospace technology development and testing. With a rich aerospace ecosystem, a highly regarded regulator, and soon-to-be created dedicated testing areas, we can move much faster here than most other places on Earth.
With challenging terrain, brutal weather, a dispersed population and high operating costs, New Zealand is the perfect place to prove that our technology is robust and we can deliver valuable services to our customers with that technology.