New Zealand’s Flag Carrier Purchases 1st Battery-Powered Aircraft

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In May 2022, an ALIA aircraft completed a flight of 2,253 kilometres from New York State to Arkansas, inclusive of several stops for recharging.

New Zealand’s national air carrier has purchased a next-generation all-electric aircraft to be used for cargo service in conjunction with mail provider NZ Post.

The acquisition is expected to be a catalyst for the widespread use of battery-power aircraft commercially.

As a kickstarter to their Mission Next Gen Aircraft programme, which aims to commercialise battery-powered aircraft by 2026, Air New Zealand announced on Dec. 6 they had purchased a conventional take-off and landing version of the U.S-based BETA Technologies’ ALIA aircraft.

Selecting the ALIA comes after an 18-month consultation process by Air New Zealand with aero-space developers and innovators. Four developers were ultimately chosen to be part of the Mission Next Gen program.

The ALIA eCTOL (conventional take-off and landing) model is understood to come with a US$4 million price tag. BETA technologies also produce an ALIA with capabilities for vertical take and landing (VTOL). The two models share many design features.

BETA Technologies was founded by Kyle Clark in 2017 and has 450 employees. Product development is focused on quieter electric-pusher motors with a smaller carbon footprint and zero operational emissions, compared to contemporary gasoline-powered plane engines.

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The company is keeping the production of the batteries needed for flight in-house and is in the throes of repurposing an old Energizer Battery plant in St. Albans, Vermont.

Air New Zealand expects to take possession of the ALIA in 2026, with an option for two more aircraft to be acquired after the trial cargo service is completed.

The year 2030 has been set as the date that Air New Zealand expects to introduce and integrate future aircraft into its domestic operations.

Before then, confirmation of its viability, and ability to pass appropriate safety trials actioned by the countries’ Civil Aviation Authority is required.

Air trials have confirmed a range of 500 kilometres for the ALIA, and cargo flights around New Zealand are expected to be in the range of 150 kilometres.

In May 2022, an ALIA aircraft completed a flight of 2,253 kilometres from New York State to Arkansas, inclusive of several stops for recharging.

The 12-metre ALIA weighs 3,000kg, and its battery can be fully charged within an hour.

It can travel at a top speed of 270 kilometres per hour and flies at a low altitude of 1,500-3,000 metres. It has a maximum occupancy of six, inclusive of a pilot and five passengers.

The plane utilises electric propulsion systems and produces zero operational emissions, which fits in with Air New Zealand’s medium-term goal to decarbonise its fleet.

 Air New Zealand is aiming to decarbonise its fleet by 2030 (Reuters/Nigel Marple/File Photo)
Air New Zealand is aiming to decarbonise its fleet by 2030 (Reuters/Nigel Marple/File Photo)
Speaking with media on Dec. 6, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran stressed the ALIA was not an immediate replacement for their existing fleet.

“This is a small but important step in a much larger journey for the airline. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we are incredibly committed, and this purchase marks a new chapter for the airline,” said Mr Foran.

“Decarbonising aviation isn’t easy, and we have a lot of work to do. We need to accelerate the pace of change in the technology, infrastructure, operations, and regulation.”

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