The recent announcement of a government backed joint venture to develop an aerospace centre at Kaitōrete Spit is significant on many levels. Not the least of which is that the project wisely takes a stewardship approach in conjunction with local Māori. But in order to fully realise this exciting opportunity, we need to redouble our efforts in building a pipeline of talent, whilst encouraging a diverse range of supporting technology ventures across the engineering, software and design sectors.
Kaitōrete Spit was actually the original choice by RocketLab for its New Zealand launch site back in 2015. But delays in resource consenting at the time due to environmental concerns led to RocketLab setting up on the Mahia Peninsular site instead. But Kaitōrete remains a location of interest as it is geographically optimal for launches of helio-synchronous or polar orbiting satellites that are deployed for remote imaging and weather observing.
Concerns over impact on the environment are certainly well founded. The sandy isthmus contains a fragile natural ecosystem and evidence of some of the most ancient remnants of indigenous habitation in the country. At present a large portion of Kaitōrete is occupied by roaming livestock. Project Tāwhaki however has committed to regenerating 1000 hectares of the wind swept landscape with new fencing and thousands of native tree plantings. In a similar fashion, the Christchurch aerospace industry ecosystem needs some further cultivation as well.
Local industry anchors Kea Aerospace (a ThincLab Growth Programme company) and Dawn Aerospace are already in expansion mode. But the key to unlocking wider value involves recognising that the industry will not operate in isolation. Doubtless numerous other ventures will be required as support actors. Encouraging a cluster based local exchange of knowledge, capital and talent will assist the industry to grow and this is where Christchurch Aerospace has been making headway. It will also be essential to develop a wide range of adjacent expertise in areas such as aerospace software, engineering, design, computer graphics and data analytics. Then integrating these new companies into global value chains becomes the ultimate objective.
The University of Canterbury is ideally placed to provide a talent pipeline and ThincLab at the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship is already providing advisory to companies in this space. ThincLab is part of a global network of university-based incubators. If you are a knowledge-based business located in Canterbury and ready for growth — please get in touch.
Paul Spence is an advisor at ThincLab New Zealand, Christchurch’s founder led incubator within the University of Canterbury.