Air New Zealand (NZ, Auckland International) continues to up-gauge its eco-credentials, adding several new entities to its portfolio of strategic partners that are working to develop environmentally sustainable aircraft for the airline.

This week, Air New Zealand signed partnership agreements with Universal Hydrogen and Heart Aerospace (Gothenburg City). They add to the list of entities, including Eviation, Beta Technologies, VoltAero, and Cranfield University, which Air New Zealand has signed similar agreements with under its Mission Next Gen Aircraft partnership program.

Universal Hydrogen is developing ways to convert existing regional aircraft to fly on hydrogen and to supply hydrogen to the aircraft using a modular fueling approach. Air New Zealand's regional fleet comprises twenty-three DHC-8-300s. On completion of testing and certification, Universal's conversion kits "could" be installed on these aircraft.

"We want to be a leader in the rollout of zero-emissions aircraft in New Zealand," said Kiri Hannifin, Air New Zealand's chief sustainability officer. Notably, Universal Hydrogen was recently granted a special airworthiness certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration and has just completed the first taxi tests using a DHC-8-300 testbed. They expect to conduct their first test flight soon at Moses Lake.

On the same day that Universal announced its agreement with Air New Zealand, Heart Aerospace said it had signed up for Air New Zealand’s Mission Next Gen Aircraft partnership. Heart Aerospace is developing the 30-seat ES-2 electric aircraft which it hopes to start delivering to customers by 2028. The plane will have a fully electric zero-emissions range of 200 kilometres, an extended range of 400 kilometres, and be able to fly up to 800 kilometres with 25 passengers while maintaining safe reserves.

"Having Heart Aerospace as one of our long-term partners will grow our collective understanding of zero emissions aircraft technology as it develops and will give them the confidence they are developing a product that’s viable for us," said Hannifin. What Heart did not pick up in the agreement was an explicit LOI or MOU to acquire aircraft. The December 2022 round of Next Gen Aircraft partner announcements, involving Cranfield, VoltAero, Eviation, and Beta Technologies did include a "statement of intent to order" from Air New Zealand which stated the intention of acquiring at least three aircraft initially, with options for 20 more, from one or more of the strategic partners.

Air New Zealand has a 2050 zero-emissions target but a more pressing 2030 deadline to cut its carbon emissions per revenue tonne-kilometre by almost 29%. Alongside Universal Hydrogen and Heart Aerospace, established aircraft manufacturers Airbus, Embraer, and ATR - Avions de Transport Régional also signed on as Next Gen Aircraft program partners this week.