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Skykraft, Airways NZ to test space air traffic service

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Tāmaki Makaurau Airways New Zealand and Skykraft in Australia are to work together to develop Skykraft’s space-based air traffic management service in one of the world’s largest airspace regions.

Skykraft, a space services company based in Canberra, will use its satellite constellation to gather data on aircraft movements.

It will test it against data held by Airways, which manages 30 million square kilometres of airspace over New Zealand, the south Pacific, the southern Oceans and the Tasman Sea.

Skykraft is developing a space-based, global service combining an air traffic surveillance system and a very high frequency radio communication system, which would extend the reach of the frequency to areas covered by older technologies.

Its five satellites were launched successfully by SpaceX from Florida in January and further launches are scheduled for mid-2023 and early 2024.

Skykraft’s chair air vice-marshal Mark Skidmore says the signing of a memorandum of understanding brings to companies who want to advance air traffic control tech in remote and oceanic regions.

“The memorandum allows us to work with Airways New Zealand, a world-leader in air traffic management, on a proof-of-concept demonstration of Skykraft’s world-first combination of space-based air traffic surveillance and VHF radio communications,” says Skidmore.

“It’s a great opportunity for an Australian space company and New Zealand’s air navigation service provider to use new technology to make flying across the Pacific and the Tasman even safer and more efficient.”

Airways New Zealand’s general manager air traffic services Katie Wilkinson welcomes a collaboration that will help drive the evolution of the next generation of air traffic management services.

“We look forward to contributing our experience managing one of the largest airspace regions in the world and to exploring how we can integrate space-based air traffic management with our existing infrastructure,” Wilkinson says.

“Our satellite-based VHF radio communication system will be a key element in the proof-of-concept process and has the potential to create a step change for aviation.”

Skykraft specialises in the design, manufacture and operation of satellite constellations for the delivery of global services.

It is focused on launching a constellation for space-based air traffic management services during 2023 to commence commercial operations in 2024.

The service will improve the safety and efficiency of global air travel by providing global surveillance and communication for air traffic, especially over remote and oceanic areas not covered by existing infrastructure.

Airways New Zealand provides air navigation services in New Zealand airspace and across the oceanic area, one of the largest airspace regions in the world.

They are for maintaining and investing in the aviation infrastructure that supports New Zealand’s air traffic management system.​

Airways NZ employs about 800 staff nationally in highly skilled and technical roles, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.