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Airways NZ partners with Skykraft on satellite air traffic monitoring

written by Jake Nelson | March 8, 2023

Skykraft’s satellites orbiting above Australia – illustration by Tony Bela.
Orbiting above Australia – illustration by Tony Bela.

NZ air traffic control provider Airways New Zealand has inked a deal with space services company Skykraft to test space-based air traffic management technology.

The partnership will see Canberra-based Skykraft use its constellation of five satellites, which were launched with SpaceX from Florida in January this year, to collect aircraft movement data and test it against data from Airways New Zealand covering NZ, the South Pacific and Southern Oceans, and the Tasman Sea.

According to Skykraft’s Chairman, Air Vice-Marshal (Ret’d) Mark Skidmore, both companies are aiming to advance air traffic control technology in remote and oceanic regions, and the partnership is a step towards even safer and more efficient flying across the Pacific and Tasman.

“The Memorandum of Understanding allows us to work with Airways New Zealand, a world leader in air traffic management, on a proof-of-concept demonstration of Skykraft’s world-first combination of space-based air traffic surveillance and VHF radio communications,” he said.

Skykraft’s goal is to combine air traffic surveillance and Very High Frequency (VHF) radio communications in a global space-based service that will extend VHF into areas still using older technology.


The collaboration will help develop the “next generation” of air traffic management, said Airways New Zealand’s General Manager Air Traffic Services, Katie Wilkinson.

“We look forward to contributing our experience managing one of the largest airspace regions in the world and to exploring how we can integrate space-based air traffic management with our existing infrastructure,” she said.

“Skykraft’s satellite-based VHF radio communication system will be a key element in the proof-of-concept process and has the potential to create a step change for aviation.”

Skykraft last year joined forces with Australia’s ATC provider Airservices Australia to design and develop the satellites, with Airservices chief customer experience and strategy officer Peter Curran saying at the time that space-based surveillance technologies are a boon for air traffic safety.

“This is a great opportunity to support an Australian company develop new sovereign capability that has the potential to provide near continuous surveillance reporting and higher fidelity communications that not only benefits Airservices and our customers but the global aviation industry,” said Curran.

“Space-based technologies provide significant opportunity to enhance safety, efficiency, predictability and capacity while reducing overall infrastructure costs associated with the current ground-based networks.”

Skykraft is aiming for a commercial release of its service offering in 2024.

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