Cargo at Air New Zealand is going to get BETA

… As in BETA Technologies’ all electric aircraft, ALIA. LinkedIn is buzzing with the news published on 06DEC23, that Air New Zealand has placed a firm order for one conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version of the ALIA aircraft, with options for an additional two aircraft, and rights for a further 20 aircraft, reaching a solid milestone in its Mission Next Gen Aircraft.

An all-electric powered ALIA CTOL cargo aircraft will be put into operation in 2026 by Air NZ in partnership with New Zealand Post – photo:  Beta Technologies

The airline’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Kiri Hannifin, was refreshingly honest in her LinkedIn announcement regarding the initial non-decarbonization, where she thanked the entire team involved in the 18-month-long project thus far: “I am very proud and pleased to announce that today Air NZ confirmed the purchase of our first lower emissions aircraft – the battery powered all electric ALIA CTOL by the amazing heroes at BETA TECHNOLOGIES. We are aiming to have this aircraft flying cargo in 2026. While this aircraft will add to our fleet and therefore not remove any carbon, it’s the aircraft we will use to demonstrate that next generation aircraft is possible for Aotearoa and Air NZ. In terms of being key to the transition we need to undertake, and getting the aviation eco system ready, this special aircraft will do so much heavy lifting. So, while a very small step – its task is immense.

It already has a huge place in the hearts of the Air NZ team who’ve been working so hard to get it across the line. Working with Beta has also been humbling. It’s companies like this who will change the world.”

[Beta also works very closely with UPS, for example, who expect their first aircraft next year: CFG reported]

Commercial demonstrator for cargo
What is also refreshing, is the fact that the ALIA CTOL has been purchased first and foremost for cargo. Considerations to also use it for passenger transport began appearing in the media a couple of days later, but the initial commercial demonstrator project is one between Air New Zealand and NZ Post, with more details promised in early 2024 as to which two frontrunner airports will be home to the next generation aircraft. “Air New Zealand will initially operate the aircraft as a cargo only service in partnership with New Zealand Post, on a route being selected through an expressions of interest (EOI) process with airports across Aotearoa,” the release states, adding that the battery-powered all-electric aircraft is planned to join Air New Zealand’s fleet in 2026. Considerable deliberation went into the selection of partners with which to venture into next generation air logistics, as the release reveals: “The [purchase] announcement follows an 18-month period of evaluation and diligence by Air New Zealand. Through the airline’s Mission Next Gen Aircraft program, it sought and received ideas and insights from 30 organizations, selecting four partners to work closely with on its goal of launching commercial flights using next generation aircraft in 2026. BETA’s ALIA is the first commercial order in the program.”

Greg Foran has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Air New Zealand on 03FEB20 – picture: courtesy Air NZ

One small, but significant step
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran commented on his company’s commitment to flying lower-emissions aircraft in New Zealand: “This is a small but important step in a much larger journey for Air New Zealand. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we are incredibly committed, and this purchase marks a new chapter for the airline. Decarbonizing 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. While this aircraft will add to, not replace our existing fleet, it is a catalyst for that change. By flying the ALIA, we hope to advance our knowledge and the transformation needed in the aviation system in Aotearoa for us to fly larger, fleet replacing, next generation aircraft from 2030.”

Many stakeholders needed to make it work
With great exuberance in his LinkedIn post, Jacob Snelgrove, Next Generation Aircraft and Sustainability at Air New Zealand, mentioned the many stakeholders involved in bringing the project thus far: “That’s a wrap – a huge week I’ll treasure forever. Air New Zealand has ordered its first next gen aircraft from BETA TECHNOLOGIES! We’re lucky to be working with the incredible team at BETA Technologies. Patrick Buckles, Ryan Barta, Blain Newton and Jake Goldman, you have made the last two years of working together fun, inspiring and full of many laughs, you guys rock. Kyle Clark, thanks for agreeing to build us this epic new aircraft – you’re a true pioneer,” going on to thank his contacts at the Civil Aviation Authority for the positive outlook to 2026, and NZ Post “for agreeing to be the ‘commercial’ in our commercial demonstrator, you are real leaders pushing the transport sector to decarbonize and we’re lucky to be partnering with you. We have much to learn!” closing with: “While this is an important milestone, the reality is that the hard work starts now, and many challenges lay ahead. This is only one small plane, flying short distances, carrying cargo [but] we have to start somewhere, and I would rather be learning from doing than sitting on the side lines wondering what if.”

Bringing new technologies to scale
BETA Chief Executive Officer, Kyle Clark, commented: “Air New Zealand is hyper focused on bringing technologies to scale as quickly as possible, both to meet its own ambitions to decarbonize and to change the broader aviation landscape. Over the past year plus of partnership, collaboration, and diligence, we’ve seen Air New Zealand’s forward-thinking, yet pragmatic and methodical approach to innovation. We are gratified by the airline’s confidence in our technology as a solution that will meet their operational needs and look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand as we bring the ALIA to market for 2026.”

The current 3-ton, 12-meter-long ALIA has achieved a test range of more than 480kms in one flight, which is more than sufficient for the 150 km routes planned for Air New Zealand’s first flights. The airline will also fly at a lower altitude of between 1500 to 3000 meters. The aircraft can fly at speeds of up to 270kms an hour and its battery will take around 40-60 minutes to fully charge. “Aviation has a rigorous safety and risk management culture. The aircraft will only be brought into service once it has passed testing and is certified as safe to fly by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority,” the release emphasizes.

Earlier this year, DHL Express had ordered 12 all-electric freighter aircraft from Seattle-based newcomer Eviation.

According to the producer, its “Alice” named aircraft can fly 815 km with a single battery charge and carry 1.2 tons of cargo. The zero-emission turboprop is ideal for feeder routes and requires less investment in ground infrastructure, notes DHL.



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