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Stratospheric Aircraft Development Accelerates

Kea Aerospace is building a solar-powered, unmanned aircraft that can fly in the stratosphere continuously for months at a time. The zero-emission aircraft, called the Kea Atmos, will carry a suite of imagery equipment that will be game-changing for many industries, vastly improving intelligence for applications such as smart cities, precision agriculture, disaster management and environmental monitoring.

Kea Aerospace is building the largest unmanned aircraft ever built in the Southern Hemisphere, with a wingspan of over 30 metres. The electric motors will be powered by hundreds of solar cells to collect enough energy from the sun each day to enable it to fly continuously for months. It will fly at 65,000 ft (20 kilometres) in the stratosphere, an altitude twice as high as commercial passenger jets, where there is a relatively calm sweet spot above the jet streams and turbulent weather to enable smooth, sustained flight.

In May, Kea Aerospace was pleased to welcome Dr. Wolfgang Leitner as a Company Director and investor. He has New Zealand residency, is currently based in Austria, has a successful track-record of two IPO’s and is the largest shareholder of a 6 billion euro global engineering company.

Kea Aerospace’s CEO, Mark Rocket says, “We are moving at a swift development pace. Over the last few months we’ve employed an outstanding team of engineers, pilots and other personnel as we prepare for test flights with smaller prototype aircraft throughout spring and work on finalising the design of the Kea Atmos next year. In July we relocated into our new central Christchurch premises where the first full-scale aircraft will be built.”

Aerospace is a significant growth industry that can support highly skilled, high value jobs that contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand's future success and environmental goals, but there are challenges on the horizon. Mark Rocket says, “Fast-growing businesses need options to bring people in and out of our country’s borders, so we sincerely hope that by the start of 2022 international travel options are established.”

On September 20th, Kea Aerospace was the first company to commence flight testing in the newly established Project Tāwhaki area on the Kaitōrete Spit. A spokesperson for Project Tāwhaki, David Perenara-O’Connell says, “The flight testing being undertaken by Kea, is part of our user experience feasibility work. We are excited about what this means for our region, the growing aerospace sector, and we’re thrilled to be working with the Kea Aerospace team.” Project Tāwhaki is a partnership between Te Taumutu Rūnanga, Wairewa Rūnanga (together as Kaitōrete Limited) and the Crown, to protect and rejuvenate the Kaitōrete environment and develop aerospace activities and R&D facilities. This project is focused on generating significant and sustainable economic opportunities through job creation, capital investment and adjacent sectors serving the aerospace economy.

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