Aeronavics supplies fleet for first ‘drone airline’

Raglan business Aeronavics Ltd has partnered with an Australian company to create what is being called the world’s first “drone airline”.

Aeronavics director Linda Bulk says her company has become the sole provider of droids (more commonly known as drones or UAVs) for Airscope Industries, which specialises in aerial asset inspections.

Linda says Airscope Industries is looking at its fleet of drones as an airline.

“It’s a fantastic partnership.

“We are definitely looking to partner with more companies like Airscope rather than trying to sell drones to individuals … they are a great client, very professional.”

Linda and her husband, Rob Brouwer, who met in Australia, moved to Raglan about four years ago, after looking for a place in New Zealand to settle their business.

“We needed to find roots for our company,” says Linda, “because we need flying space, hey, and it worked out well.”

They have an arrangement with a neighbouring farmer on Okete Rd, where the company is based, “and he is happy with that”.

She says Airscope Industries, which is a relatively new company, approached them for their aerial robotic technology.

“They sort of had gone all around the world to find suitable equipment.

“We are still even a fledgling company, but in the world of drones we are quite established.”

Aeronavics was the first company in the world to sell drones for professional use.

Airscope Industries took delivery of a number of their drones at the end of last year, and more will be supplied in line with the company’s growth plans. Airscope aims to have an east coast presence in Australia by mid-year, extending this to include New Zealand by the end of 2016 and South America and South East Asia in 2017.

Linda and Aeronavics chief operating officer Jon Fletcher recently travelled to Perth to collaborate with Airscope Industries at the Australasian Oil and Gas Conference and Expo.

Linda believes that the use of Aeronavics craft within the environment of the oil and gas sector is a testament to the quality and reliability of its droids.

“We pride ourselves in designing and manufacturing reliable aerial robotics solutions for a range of situations, including dangerous or unstable environments as found within the oil and gas industry.”

Airscope Industries’s other clients include civil engineering companies, councils, electricity companies and the agricultural sector, all businesses with assets that need inspection.

Linda says Aeronavics has three basic models of droids.

The smallest weighs about 5kg-6kg, is capable of carrying about 1.2kg in weight, generally travels at about 90kmh, and has a flight time of 35 minutes, while the largest droid weighs about 25kg-30kg, can carry 15kg, travels at about 50kmh-70kmh and has a flight time of about 20 minutes. The drones can be operated by computer programming, joystick or radio control.

“There is a lot of innovation here, a lot of pushing the envelope,” says Linda, who laughs that she contributes the least to any new developments.

Aeronavics has five engineers involved in production, and another five working in research and development. Altogether, the team consists of 22 employees.

Linda says the company is currently seeking investors in a capital raising of $5 million to further product development and for expansion, including building new international channels and service centres.

“We are talking with people right now. Possibly in the next couple of weeks it will be all done and dusted, but it could take a couple of months. There are always conversations to be had, it takes a while.”

In February last year, Aeronavics raised $1.5m through an equity crowd-funding campaign, with 213 investors taking a total 15 per cent stake in the company.

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