Air New Zealand taps zero-emission plane development partners

New Zealand zero emission

No doubt inspired by its nation’s status as one of the most environmentally conscious on the planet, flag carrier Air New Zealand has revealed four aircraft development companies it has selected to begin test flights of zero-emission planes in 2026.

Air New Zealand made the announcement this week as part of its “Mission NextGen Aircraft” program that seeks to decarbonize the carrier’s entire operation by 2050. As part of that, it solicited proposals supplied by over 30 candidates to support Air New Zealand’s goal of beginning demonstration flights of zero emissions aircraft in 2026, and use those to replace tradition planes in its fleet as of 2030.

ReadAfter eVTOL air taxis, United to invest in e-planes for regional hops 

To meet those targets, Air New Zealand tapped four international aviation companies ­– Eviation, Beta, VoltAero, and Cranfield Aerospace – to pursue their respective their respective next generation aircraft projects, and has committed to acquiring three of those zero-emission craft for use in 2026. The airline has taken an option to purchase and addition 20 from those partners after that.

The decision to work with several companies developing very different sustainable aviation technologies differs somewhat from strategies by airlines elsewhere, which typically rely on a single partner leading the charge on on electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) tech. 

Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines, for example, have backed Vertical Aerospace with large craft orders, while Joby and Delta have created tight bonds. United Airlines is both an Archer Aviation client and investor, though the carrier has recently also placed orders with Eve Mobility

Air New Zealand, by contrast, has selected a mix of relatively small next-generation aircraft developers, all of which are taking entirely different paths toward enabling zero emission flight to boot. That’s no accident.

“‘Mission NextGen Aircraft’ is not about backing one innovator,” said Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. “It’s about working with a range of leaders in zero emissions aircraft technology to help move the whole ecosystem along… The learnings we will take from flying an aircraft with next generation propulsion technology from 2026 will then pave the way for our long-term partners to deliver an aircraft that can replace our Q300 turboprop domestic fleet. “

The UK’s Cranfield Aerospace is currently working to reconfigure an existing nine-seat, fossil fuel burning Britten-Norman Islander plane to fly using its hydrogen cell technology. France’s VoltAero, meanwhile, is developing a hybrid VTOL craft that relies on electric power for all phases of departure, ascent, descent, and landing, and combustion engines for vertical flight (motors that may be adapted to meet Air New Zealand’s plan to replace fossil fuels with manufactured sustainable alternatives).

Based in Washington State, Eviation is building a nine-seat battery-powered plane that takes off, lands, and flies vertically as classic craft do, while Vermont’s BETA is focused on its ALIA-250, using an eVTOL system favored by most advanced air mobility companies today.

Air New Zealand says that after testing of the different next-generation aircraft commences in 2026, it will decide which ones best fit its objectives of using zero-emission planes initially for short hops, then expanding operation domestically, over to Australia, and eventually to more distant Pacific island destinations. 

Read: New Zealand drone company speeds pace of nation’s effort to plant a billion trees 

Foran admits the initial deadlines involved will be tight, but says the increasing threats from global warming don’t allow for a slower pace.

“Getting a zero emissions aircraft off the ground by 2026 is going to be challenging,” he said. “But we’re incredibly ambitious – because we need to be.”

Subscribe to DroneDJ on YouTube for exclusive videos

Load more...
Show More Comments