Autonomous flight developer Merlin has opened its centre for operations based in Kerikeri, New Zealand.
The operating means Merlin now has a dedicated test environment to support further development and certification of its New Zealand-based autonomous Cessna Caravans. Merlin has also partnered with Freightways New Zealand to deliver freight to the north of the country. Therefore the facility will serve also as a base for freight carrier operations.
The testing completed in New Zealand and the corresponding learnings will guide future development decisions to be implemented globally, ensuring in-air operability and certification with the FAA and Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (NZ CAA).
Shaun Johnson, CEO of Merlin New Zealand, said: “Before autonomous flight can scale, we must conduct a considerable amount of prerequisite work. As a birthplace of aviation innovation, New Zealand has more than 100 years of history-making work. It’s exciting to have Merlin’s best-in-class capabilities here and put them to the test.”
To date, Merlin has conducted over 500 autonomous flights, but expect the new facility to enable a rapid increase in its progress. The base, located in the Bay of Islands, includes an aircraft hangar, maintenance workshops, and office space. When possible, the facility will also be available to support broader New Zealand aerospace activities, such as a recent New Zealand Defence Force parachute training school deployment. Also, Merlin’s first test aircraft were deployed in recent weeks to assist in the regional flood relief efforts.
Johnson added: “Our talented team is devoted to ensuring a more resilient air network continues to safely grow globally. With this new facility, we now have the infrastructure needed to modify aircraft with the Merlin Pilot while simultaneously running freight operations in support of rural New Zealand.”
The news follows Merlin’s recent achievement of attaining Stage of Involvement (SOI) 1, with the NZ CAA earlier this month.