Aerospace Opportunities Take Off In Christchurch
In 2022 the Government developed a new Aerospace Strategy to help build a globally-competitive sector by 2030. Much of that growth is concentrated here Christchurch, due to the city’s geographically advantageous position and thriving aerospace community. We caught up with three innovators making their mark on the industry and encouraging others to join them.
At just 26 years of age Emily Blythe is tackling the big problems. Her company, Pyper Vision, creates safe visibility at airports by dispersing fog using a specially designed drone. The drone distributes a non-hazardous powder which, as it falls, kickstarts the natural dispersal process within minutes.
As far as Emily knows, it’s a world first solution, and one that’s very close to her heart. Growing up in an aviation family - her mum is an air traffic controller and her dad and grandad are both pilots, she saw first-hand the problems fog can create for airports and decided to do something about it, but she couldn’t solve the problem on her own.
“The beauty of being based in Christchurch, surrounded by such a strong aerospace community is that from day one Pyper Vision was able to lean into the expertise here, whether it is setting up an advisory board of airline regulators, pilots and passengers, or being able to access staff who have the training and skills to help us grow. To have that ongoing support has been invaluable.”
The beauty of being based in Christchurch, surrounded by such a strong aerospace community is that from day one Pyper Vision was able to lean into the expertise"
The Christchurch aerospace community has grown substantially over the past decade or two with industry body Aerospace Christchurch, set up in 2018. President Mark Rocket says when it comes to industry growth, Canterbury has a distinct advantage over many other cities both in New Zealand and around the world.
“Christchurch has open skies, variable terrain, we’re close to the coast, plus we've got the second largest manufacturing capability in the region and a good international airport. We can also offer great lifestyle benefits for people with the ocean and the mountains. We’re also New Zealand’s only gateway to Antarctica so we have hundreds of researchers that go through the city every year. I think there is real potential to set Christchurch up as a real global R&D hub for space and advanced aviation work.”
Mark knows a thing or two about the global space industry, aside from his work with Aerospace Christchurch he was a seed investor of Rocket Lab and served as the company’s Co-director from 2007 to 2011, he’s worked with the Government to develop a space strategy for New Zealand and is also the founder of Kea Aerospace, a company which is building a solar power aircraft that flies in the stratosphere and captures high resolution aerial imagery for applications such as environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management and maritime awareness.
Mark sees huge opportunities for the future of New Zealand’s aerospace sector and wants to attract more companies from around the world to set up in Aotearoa.
“We have a lot of world leading projects going on in Christchurch right now, we need to sell the concept better so that people fully understand the scope of the industry, the speed at which we can get things done and the opportunities that presents. When we started Rocket Lab, people thought we were a bit crazy starting a rocket company in New Zealand and going up against the likes of America, China and Russia. But we can do things in a different way here, we've got a lot of innovation and ingenuity and we just seem to be able to get things going quickly and cost effectively.”
We can do things in a different way here, we've got a lot of innovation and ingenuity and we just seem to be able to get things going quickly and cost effectively.”
Jenny Blackburn, a Kiwi living in the US was impressed by the opportunities Christchurch offers. With qualifications in Mechanical Engineering and Turbo Machinery Jenny was thinking of returning home and Christchurch proved a great location. She applied for a role as a mechanical engineer in the propulsion team at Dawn Aerospace, which provides in-space propulsion technology for satellites, and is also flight-testing a spaceplane technology demonstrator, the Dawn Mk-II Aurora.
“There are so many opportunities, even just at Dawn Aerospace – I’m a mechanical engineer, but we have structural engineers, electrical engineers, mechatronics engineers, as well as roles in aviation etc. The thing with start-ups is that you have to know a little bit of everything. We are designing something that’s never been designed before so there are lots of little things that crop up all the time and you need to be able to apply problem solving skills in lots of different ways, it’s one of the things I love most about the job - all the different ways you can really be part of something so new and exciting.”
We are designing something that’s never been designed before so there are lots of little things that crop up all the time and you need to be able to apply problem solving skills in lots of different ways,"
Jenny says for those who are new to Christchurch or to New Zealand’s aerospace sector there are plenty of opportunities to connect with other passionate people.
“Aerospace Christchurch holds meetups regularly, Canterbury University has rocket clubs, mentorship programmes and we’ve got a network for women working in aerospace called Women in Space – there are just so many opportunities to get involved,” said Jenny.
Christchurch’s aerospace sector is vast and encompasses aviation, space flight, rocketry, manufacturing, engineering, geospatial mapping, data analytics, education, training and services. The scale of growth in the sector has been incredible and Emily has some parting words for any people wanting to be involved…
“While there has been a huge amount of work to build the aerospace talent pipeline in Christchurch we still need more people. There is a real need to bring more experience back home. A lot of these companies have deep aerospace knowledge, but there is a real opportunity to combine that with business expertise.. The opportunities are endless.”