Autonomous Wisk air taxi passenger trial to be held in Canterbury

A passenger trial of electric, self-flying air taxis is set to take place in Canterbury following an agreement between urban mobility company Wisk and the New Zealand Government.

Details about the trial including when and exactly where it will happen are yet to be disclosed, as the parties develop a plan and get certification by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

The autonomous aircraft that will be used in the trial is named Cora, which Wisk says will "change the future of daily commutes and urban travel".

Cora aircraft "rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane", not needing a runway to land or takeoff, and will fly "using self-flying software combined with human oversight", says Wisk.

According to a report from Verge, the aim is to eventually have customers summon a Cora using an app.

Minister of Research Science and Innovation Dr Megan Woods announced the Government's signing of a memorandum of understanding with Wisk on Wednesday.

"The Government sees great potential in the development of an innovative unmanned aircraft sector in New Zealand and we are in a prime position to work with globally-leading companies here to safely test and go-to-market," said Dr Woods.

"As well as the economic and social benefits the growth of this industry offers, we also share Wisk's vision of a greener, emission-free way for Kiwis and visitors to New Zealand to get around. Enabling the emergence of an entirely electric air taxi service is a natural fit with New Zealand's zero carbon goal by 2050."

Wisk, which is the new trading name of Zephyr Airworks, has a complicated history that began in 2016 with Kitty Hawk, a flying car company funded by Google co-founder Larry Page.

In 2018, testing of an autonomous, electric air taxi prototype in Christchurch was announced as being carried out by 'Zephyr Airworks', which was the New Zealand operations of the Kitty Hawk Corporation.

However, following a Forbes report about problems at Kitty Hawk including "technical problems and safety issues" with another prototype entitled Flyer, the Cora was folded into a joint venture with Boeing and named Wisk.

"From day one, Cora by Wisk was designed with safety as our first priority, using emissions-free systems," says the Wisk website.

"We're working toward a future where you'll be able to safely soar over traffic and get to where you're going, faster. Because everyone has somewhere to be, someone to see, and now - a better way to get there."

Dr Woods says "Wisk's innovative technology and commitment to New Zealand make them an ideal partner".

Canterbury was chosen as the location for the trial as the region is "home to an emerging cluster of innovative aerospace and aviation companies and its manufacturing and technology sectors are the second largest in New Zealand," said Dr Woods.

"[Christchurch's] strong tertiary and research eco-system alongside the connectivity to the rest of the world, with an international seaport and airport, makes [it] attractive for trialling new technology."

She added that the trial will require "Government, industry and key stakeholders at a national and local level working together to develop and deliver a robust plan for safe operation in the Christchurch area."

Wisk CEO Gary Gysin said it was "an honour" the company was selected for the agreement.

"We are delighted to now have a signed agreement with the New Zealand Government, which will propel Cora's entry to the air taxi market," he said.

No timeframe for when further details will be announced was given.