Kea Aerospace solar-power aircraft a 'game changer' for aerial imaging

A Christchurch company has announced its plan to build a revolutionary, unmanned aircraft that can fly for several months at a time.

Kea Aerospace celebrated its official company launch of the Kea Atmos on Wednesday - an aircraft with no pilot, no fuel and no emissions.

It will carry a suite of imagery equipment which could help with environmental monitoring and disaster management. 

"It's an ambitious technology milestone, it hasn't been done before," Kea Aerospace CEO Mark Rocket said.

With a wing span of 32 metres, it will be the largest unmanned aircraft ever built in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Kea Atmos has three engines powered by hundreds of solar panels. 

It will fly twice as high as commercial aeroplanes, but below satellites, enabling it to collect much clearer data. 

"There is a huge data gap at the moment where many different sectors and industries aren't getting the information they need to make informed decision making," Rocket said.

"So having frequent high resolution image making will be a game changer."

The aircraft may be used to survey damage caused by natural disasters. It could also help detect pollution on land and in waterways.

Environmental Canterbury's GeoSpatial Services team leader Iain Campion says it will help them get more data quicker.

"We're a data hungry organisation so this means we will be able to get more data quicker and use it to edit and help us prioritise our work and know where the issues are," he said.

Kea Aerospace has been accepted into the New Zealand Airspace Integration Trials - a programme establishing New Zealand as a prime location for innovation

"We actually have an advantage here, not a chance to catch up," Kea Aerospace Chief Technology Officer Dr Philipp Sultrop said.

"I think if we do it right we can actually overtake some other parts of the world."