Eyes in the sky make aircraft more visible

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This is the first peek at a new mountain-top navigation station that will make flying into Queenstown safer and more efficient.

Airways Corporation, New Zealand’s flight-control operator, is building 17 state-of-the-art surveillance sites around the Wakatipu to provide increased capacity for air traffic operations – at a total cost of $3 million.

This one – at Mt Nicholas – is the biggest of three solar-powered installations.

Perched at a height of 1456 metres, the $273,000 station isn’t easily visible from the resort.

The structure took about 30 working days to complete as everything had to be airlifted to the site.

“About 60,000kg of concrete was needed and this, along with a digger, was flown up there in 85 helicopter
rotations,” Airways senior engineer Roger Kippenberger says.

“We also had to construct a retaining wall and dig out the foundations, so logistically it has been quite an operation.”

Weather permitting, the new navigation system is expected to be operational within three months.

The technology has the potential to save lives by making aircraft more “visible” on air traffic controllers’ computer screens over much greater distances than at present.

“It is essentially a radar system that you can put in mountainous regions,” Kippenberger adds.