SA well-placed to corner drone market

Liam Mannix

SOUTH Australia is poised to become Australia’s national drone hub.

Buried in the small print of Premier Jay Weatherill’s economic vision statement on Friday was a commitment from the government to pursue the establishment of a drone industry in South Australia. And the combination of established defence and advanced manufacturing industries makes SA the perfect incubator for a drone boom, according to our fledgling drone industry.

Under the heading “growing advanced manufacturing: vision for the future”, on page 39 of the Premier’s economic statement, drones get a mention – by their more-politically-palatable name ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’.

“South Australia has consolidated its position as the defence state, winning the future submarines contract, and additional substantial new contracts for the unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles”, the statement reads.

On Thursday, Indaily reported the drone industry was likely to take off in three to five years as costs came down and regulators implement drone-specific regulations. South Australia already has several drone operators, manufacturers and importers. They told Indaily SA was ready to be on the forefront of a new growth industry.

“I think that South Australia is well-placed to become a centre of excellence for UAVs, because it’s got a lot of ex-military experience out north and it’s got a lot of good manufacturing companies,” Andrew Dunlop, operator of drone engineering company Millswood Engineering, told Indaily.

“A lot of companies from other states us subcontracted manufacturing in Adelaide because it’s so good.”

Mark Deuter, Aerometrex managing director, said SA was already a leader in drone manufacturing. “I think the industry is set to boom all on its own,” he said.

“We’re actually reasonably well up to the front of the industry. We’ve got a couple of organisations that have had their UAV operator certificates for some time.

“We have a couple of manufacturers based here and a couple of importers.

“Defence is a potential very big user of these systems, and we do have quite a defence focus here in South Australia.”
Earlier this month the Civil Aviation Safety Authority released new draft drone rules for public consultation. If implemented they would substantially free up the drone industry – and be the catalyst for rapid expansion, the industry hopes.

Simon Butterworth, Director of SA drone manufacturer Avitus, is working with the mining industry to test drones equipped with mineral-detecting sensors.

He too was positive about the potential for SA to become a major drone base. “Absolutely. Obviously Adelaide is quite a big military hub. There’s certainly a lot of defence organisations down here, the RAAF and DSTO and various other smaller defence industries.”

Butterworth builds and flies drones for mining and real estate companies – and he’s expanding into defence work.

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