Air New Zealand Signals Next Steps To Decarbonize Fleet

 - December 15, 2022, 6:32 AM
Air New Zealand is evaluating four electric and hybrid-electric aircraft including (from top left clockwise): Eviation's Alice, VoltAero's Cassio 330, Beta Technologies' Alia 250, and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions' planned hydrogen conversion of the Britten Norman Islander. (Image: Air New Zealand)

‚ÄčAir New Zealand, which recently announced its ambition to bring zero-emissions flights to the country by 2026, has selected four major partners for the new program, called Mission Next Generation Aircraft. This week the carrier confirmed that Eviation, Beta Technologies, VoltAero, and Cranfield Aerospace—all companies working on either electric, hybrid, or hydrogen-powered aircraft—will support its efforts to demonstrate the viability of reducing carbon emissions.

On December 13, Air New Zealand announced it has signed a letter of intent to purchase an initial three aircraft, with the option for 20 additional aircraft, from at least one of the four partners. The airline will select exactly which aircraft and how many units it will purchase after an evaluation process expected to wrap up in the next 12 months.

“Mission NextGen Aircraft is not about backing one horse. It’s about working with a range of leaders in zero emissions aircraft technology to help move the whole ecosystem along,” said Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. “Our  goal is to confirm our commitment with one or more of these partners in the next 12 months with the ambition of purchasing an aircraft for delivery from 2026.” 

“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,” Foran added.

One of the four companies participating in the program is Eviation, a start-up based in Washington state that’s developing a fixed-wing, fully electric commuter airplane called Alice. In addition to the nine-seat version, Eviation also plans to offer a cargo-carrying variant with a payload capacity of 2,500 pounds (1,100 kilograms).

Eviation achieved a first flight with its Alice electric aircraft in September 2022.
Eviation achieved a first flight with its Alice electric aircraft in September 2022. (Image: Eviation Aircraft)

Since Eviation flew the Alice for the first time in September, the company has received several new orders for the aircraft and now has a backlog worth more than $2 billion. Most recently, the manufacturer received an order for 20 aircraft from the Australian airline and charter operator Northern Territory Air Services (NTAS). It also holds orders from the German regional carrier Evia Aero, Massachusetts-based regional airline Cape Air, and Miami-based charter and cargo flight provider GlobalX.

Eviation has said that it won’t begin deliveries of the Alice until 2027, the year after Air New Zealand said it aims to conduct its first zero-emissions flight. FutureFlight has reached out to the company for clarification on the timing of the possible deliveries to Air New Zealand but has not yet received a response as of press time.

Initially, the battery-powered Alice is expected to have a range of about 250 nm. However, the company aims to achieve a longer range of 440 nm once the available battery technology matures. The aircraft is powered by two MagniX Magni650 electric motors. 

“Regional flights make up a sizeable proportion of Air New Zealand's routes. The Alice offers an effective way to decarbonize these journeys, revolutionizing air travel and supporting the goals of the Mission NextGen Aircraft program," said Eviation president and CEO Gregory Davis. 

“New Zealand has earned a proud reputation for its progressive attitude and wide-ranging policies towards the climate challenge. The Alice is a beautiful aircraft that will delight airline operators and passengers,” Davis added. “Seeing it soar through the skies of New Zealand is a magical prospect, and I pay tribute to Air New Zealand's commitment to innovation and sustainability.”

Beta Technologies, a Vermont-based developer of eVTOL aircraft and their associated charging infrastructure, has also been named as one of Air New Zealand’s new partners for Mission NextGen Aircraft. So far, it is the only eVTOL aircraft selected to participate in the program. 

Beta Technologies is developing the Alia 250 eVTOL aircraft.
Beta Technologies is developing the Alia 250 eVTOL aircraft. (Image: Beta Technologies)

A company spokeswoman told FutureFlight that Air New Zealand is interested in both the company’s eVTOL aircraft, called the Alia 250, as well as Beta’s charging stations. Beta is developing a network of charging stations that can be used to charge a variety of electric aircraft, not just its own eVTOL model. 

Beta’s Alia 250 eVTOL is designed to either carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo to a range of up to 250 nm. Although the aircraft was initially designed to transport medical equipment and cargo, the company also plans to offer a passenger-carrying variant of the aircraft, which would seat five passengers plus one pilot. 

“Air New Zealand has a long history of embracing innovation and taking action toward change, and the world needs global thought leaders like this to make a meaningful difference in the climate crisis right now,” said Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark. “Air New Zealand  is stepping up and we will be right here with them to make it a reality.”

Air New Zealand has also opted to partner with VoltAero, a French startup developing a family of hybrid-electric, fixed-wing aircraft known as Cassio

VoltAero is developing the Cassio family of hybrid-electric aircraft seating up to 10 passengers.
VoltAero is developing the Cassio family of hybrid-electric aircraft seating up to 10 passengers. (Image: VoltAero)

VoltAero’s initial prototype, a converted Cessna 337 Skymaster known as Cassio 1, has already logged more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) in test flights since its debut in 2019. The Cassio 1 testbed has two EngineUs 45 electric motors, which are rated at 45 kilowatts of continuous power. 

The four-seat Cassio 330, VoltAero’s first production model, will use a Safran EngineUs 100 motor with a maximum rating of more than 150 kW. The Cassio 330 is expected to make its first test flight in 2023. Following the Cassio 330, VoltAero plans to develop a six-seat Cassio 480 (480 kW) and the 10-seat Cassio 600 (600 kW). 

VoltAero says its unique hybrid propulsion concept will rely primarily on the electric motors during taxi, takeoff, landing, and cruise flight. An internal combustion engine serves as a range extender that recharges the batteries during flight, and it can be used as a backup in case of a failure with the electric propulsion system. Each of the Cassio aircraft is expected to have a range of about 800 miles (1,300 km) and a cruise speed of about 230 mph (370 km/h). 

"Cassio provides outstanding safety and versatility through the propulsion system's dual source of electric-hybrid energy," said Jean Botti, VoltAero's CEO and Chief Technical Officer. “Additionally, Cassio's configurable cabin—along with the propulsion system's adaptability to biofuels and hydrogen for its thermal engine—opens Air New Zealand's regional network to next-generation airplanes that are clean, quiet and efficient."

The Cassio family of aircraft is expected to be certified by the end of 2024 under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s CS-23 certification specifications for single-engine, general aviation aircraft. 

The fourth demonstration partner Air New Zealand selected for its Mission NextGen Aircraft program is the UK’s Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS), which is developing a “green” hydrogen-fueled aircraft. It is the only hydrogen-powered aircraft participating in Air New Zealand’s zero-emissions flight program. 

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions is working on plans to convert existing regional airliners to hydrogen power.
Cranfield Aerospace Solutions is working on plans to convert existing regional airliners to hydrogen power. (Image: Cranfield Aerospace Solutions)

CAeS has been working on its hydrogen propulsion system since 2019 and has received UK government funding through Project Fresson. That project, which first aims to retrofit nine-seat Britten-Norman Islander airplanes with hydrogen propulsion systems by 2026, represents the first phase of the company’s roadmap to zero-emissions flight. 

The company initially planned to produce a hybrid-electric propulsion system, but it scrapped those plans in 2021 in favor of using hydrogen fuel cells with wing-mounted fuel tanks instead. Following the Islander conversions, CAeS plans to develop a 19-seat commuter airliner to run on hydrogen power, either by converting an existing aircraft or producing a clean-sheet design. Eventually, the company hopes to develop hydrogen airliners that can seat up to 100 passengers. 

In July, CAeS signed a letter of intent with its first prospective customer, the German start-up airline Evia Aero, to supply 10 hydrogen fuel cell conversion kits for the Islander aircraft. Evia Aero has since agreed to work with CAeS on its plans to develop the 19-seat hydrogen-powered airliner.