Wisk leads ‘first-of-kind’ flight trials merging uncrewed aircraft into controlled airspace


Uncrewed aircraft have been integrated into controlled airspace for the first time in a trial led by Wisk.

The project, which took place in New Zealand, included a series of test flights aimed at analysing the operational integration of uncrewed aircraft flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) into controlled airspace. The results are positive and show that a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) can be operated under instrument flight rules (IFR) in controlled airspace and integrated with regular crewed traffic, according to Wisk.

“The successful completion of this phase of testing demonstrates that it is possible to safely integrate autonomous aircraft into controlled airspace that is shared with piloted aircraft,” said Catherine MacGowan, Wisk’s VP of APAC and Air Operations. “The processes, data, and learnings from these trial flights will help shape the future of AAM and the broader aviation industry.”

A number of partners joined Wisk to make the trial happen. The New Zealand Government, Insitu Pacific as the RPA operator, the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA) as the regulatory observer and Part 102 approver, Airways New Zealand as the air navigation service provider alongside Airways International’s uncrewed traffic management (UTM) system AirShare and indigenous-led aerospace venture, Tāwhaki, provided the flight testing site.

The latest flights took place between November 17th and December 1st at Tāwhaki National Aerospace Centre at Kaitorete, involving take-offs, landings and uncontrolled and controlled airspace navigation. The tests form part of Wisk’s multi-phase programme under the New Zealand Government’s Airspace Integration Trial Programme (AITP). 

Andrew Duggan, MD of Insitu Pacific, said: “This series of flights, remotely-piloted by our Insitu Pacific operators, puts into action the significant planning and close collaboration we have undertaken to support Wisk, and their partners the NZ CAA and Airways NZ, in this evolutionary program. The successful demonstration serves as a foundation towards fielding a safe concept of operations for autonomous flight in non-segregated airspace into the future.”

The New Zealand Government’s AITP has been around since 2019. The four-year programme was launched to evaluate how airspace systems can maintain exceptional levels of safety while balancing factors like aviation advancements and social and environmental expectations from the public. Wisk was the first industry partner in the programme and has been completed multiple phases of testing since becoming the first to sign an agreement with the New Zealand government in 2020.

New Zealand CAA’s deputy chief executive of Aviation Safety David Harrison said: “CAA is committed to the safe and secure integration of emerging technologies into the civil aviation system in New Zealand. It’s a promising step forward for the whole sector that these trials have progressed safely, which is our number one priority.”

Tāwhaki CEO Linda Falwasser added: “We’re proud to support world-leading innovation to take flight from our Tāwhaki National Aerospace Centre at Kaitorete. It’s great to be working in partnership as part of the Airspace Integration Trials Programme to chart a path for an adaptive, exciting, sustainable future for aerospace transport.”