New Zealand to host ‘world’s first’ autonomous air taxi trial

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The air taxi development firm backed by Google co-founder Larry Page is to run passenger trials of its autonomous 2-seater electric aircraft Cora in New Zealand.

The airspace integration trial of Urban Air Mobility company Wisk’s Cora aircraft has been agreed with the New Zealand Government and will take place in Canterbury in central-eastern South Island.

Wisk was established in December 2019 as a joint venture between Boeing and the Kitty Hawk Corporation. Kitty Hawk, which was launched in 2015 by Larry Page, is developing the delayed Flyer single person aircraft, which has hit technical and safety problems and is also developing the Heaviside electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

Cora was developed alongside the Flyer as a two-seater electric aircraft until the project was moved to New Zealand at the start of 2017 and the company Zephyr Airworks set up to run the test program. Zephyr Airworks has been rebranded Wisk after the JV with Boeing, with the same Cora team working on the aircraft.

Cora is a two-seater aircraft with a top speed of 110mph (180km/h) and a range of 62 miles (100km). It operates at altitudes between 500ft and 3000ft above ground level and uses 12 lift fans to take off and land. It uses a single propeller for fixed wing, forward flight.

Wisk CEO, Gary Gysin, said, “The agreement with the New Zealand Government will propel Cora’s entry to the air taxi market. We see this agreement as a sign of confidence in our product and abilities to develop and deliver a safe and reliable air taxi service, starting in New Zealand.

“New Zealand values innovation, excellence and technology that is safe for people and the environment. Being selected as the partner for this program is an honor and testament to our hard work and steady progress.”

New Zealand’s minister of research science and innovation Megan Woods said, “This trial is the first of its kind and Wisk’s innovative technology and commitment to New Zealand make them an ideal partner for advancing the future of travel in New Zealand and the world.”

Planning for the trial in Canterbury is underway and it will commence after Cora’s certification by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, said Wisk.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 20 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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