Embraer, Heart Aerospace, and Universal Hydrogen have joined Airbus and ATR as long-term partners with Air New Zealand on its mission to replace its De Havilland Dash 8-300s with zero-emissions aircraft, the New Zealand flag carrier said Tuesday. Air New Zealand’s Mission Next Generation Aircraft program anticipates the first flight of a commercial demonstrator in 2026. Plans call for an aircraft type—likely powered with either green hydrogen or battery hybrid systems—to start replacing the Dash 8-300s in 2030.
“Adding Universal Hydrogen, Embraer, and Heart Aerospace will broaden our knowledge of the technologies being developed for potential future aircraft,” said Air New Zealand’s chief sustainability officer Kiri Hannifin. “This isn’t about selecting a new aircraft. It’s about growing our collective understanding to advance a new era of travel. These partners were selected because they are taking action now to progress decarbonizing the aviation industry.”
In December 2022, Air New Zealand announced the selection of four other Mission Next Generation Aircraft partners, indicating an intention to sign letters of intent for new aircraft. This group included Eviation, Beta Technologies, VoltAero, and Cranfield Aerospace—all companies working on electric, hybrid, or hydrogen-powered aircraft.
Air New Zealand has also partnered with Victoria University of Wellington’s Robinson Research Institute to help the airline evaluate and validate aircraft propulsion technology as concepts develop and mature. The research institution ranks as a world leader in developing power electronics and superconducting machines and now works on their application to the aviation industry.
As part of its agreement with Embraer, Air New Zealand has agreed to join the Brazilian airframer’s Energia Advisory Group, consisting of airlines, lessors, manufacturers, and other aviation experts advising Embraer’s project to develop sustainable aircraft. Under the partnership deal with ANZ’s Mission Next Generation Aircraft, Embraer will work on design requirements for the complex missions and fleet requirements specific to the airline’s passenger and cargo network encompassing 20 regions around New Zealand.
“As the global leader in regional aircraft, Embraer is ideally positioned to bring disruptive technologies to smaller aircraft first,” said Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer. “Smaller, regional aircraft are going to be the first platforms on which new fuel and propulsion systems can be introduced effectively. Embraer looks forward to contributing to Air New Zealand’s initiative and also adding their expertise and requirements into Embraer’s Energia project.”
Heart Aerospace’s collaboration with ANZ follows its unveiling last September of a design for a 30-seat electric regional aircraft called the ES-30 meant to replace the 19-seat ES-19 the Swedish startup announced in 2020. During a September 15 event at Heart’s Gothenburg headquarters, Air Canada and Swedish aerospace and defense group Saab each committed to investing $5 million in the venture.
Heart also announced plans to build extensive facilities for advancing electric aviation technology at Gothenburg’s Säve Airport. The Northern Runway campus will accommodate the company’s offices, production, and flight test facilities, as well as provide space for partner companies in new sustainable buildings.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand last year joined Airbus’s efforts to develop hydrogen-powered airliners through joint research into how they could help the Asia-Pacific carrier to meet its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions with its entire fleet by 2050. Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on September 16, the airline will analyze how the use of hydrogen propulsion would change its service network, operations, and infrastructure arrangements, while Airbus provides performance requirements and ground operations characteristics for the new aircraft.
Airbus head of zero emissions ecosystem Karine Guenan stressed the common goals toward decarbonization the European airframer and Air New Zealand share. “Under our existing agreement, we have already determined that New Zealand offers an ideal test environment to develop the ecosystems necessary to support hydrogen-powered aircraft operations,” she said. “The next phase will go into more detail on potential aircraft design and performance that would meet Air New Zealand’s requirements, building upon the long-standing partnership we have together.”
Universal Hydrogen, meanwhile, expects imminent first flight of the first-ever hydrogen-powered regional airliner using a hydrogen-fuel-cell-based powertrain housed completely in one of the nacelles of a De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprop. Having earned a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category by the FAA on Tuesday, Universal Hydrogen has partnered with Aerotec to perform the engine integration and fly the aircraft out of Moses Lake, Washington.
Universal Hydrogen has also begun work on an ATR 72 in Toulouse, France, where the company plans to integrate virtually the same powertrain design into the Franco-Italian turboprop, giving it the same roughly 500 nm range the modified Dash 8 will feature. Universal uses the ATR to perform engineering development and test what the company calls its "modular logistics technology."
Development and testing schedules call for receipt of supplemental type certification first for the ATR, in 2025. Last June Universal Hydrogen said it drew a firm order from prospective Massachusetts-based regional carrier Connect Airlines to covert 75 ATR 72-600 regional turboprops to hydrogen power. Connect Airlines plans to start operations with De Havilland Dash 8-400s from points between the Northeast and Midwest U.S. cities and Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport.
With its partnership with Air New Zealand, Universal Hydrogen now has progressed one step closer to a possible application for the hydrogen-powered Dash 8.
“We are pleased that Air New Zealand, one of the largest turboprop fleet operators in the world, has endorsed our hydrogen retrofit solution and infrastructure-light modular fuel delivery system,” said Universal Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko. “Air New Zealand is a leader and trendsetter in adopting true-zero-emissions technology for aviation and this strategic agreement cements that. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration that will help launch a new golden age of aviation.”