Global aid agencies, governments queue up to fight climate change with new Kiwi plane

A new multi-million-dollar plane unveiled in Hamilton on Wednesday looks set to help governments and aid agencies save lives during natural disasters and fight climate change in some of the world's most inaccessible regions. 

NZAero, the country's only commercial aircraft manufacturer, launched the SuperPac XSTOL (Extremely Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft, at a function attended by international buyers. 

"This is exciting for New Zealand and exciting for Waikato. It's what New Zealand does well and it's come out with a product for the future," said aircraft designer Jon Kerr. 

NZAero was born two years ago after predecessor Pacific Aerospace went into liquidation, following a guilty plea in 2017 in relation to indirectly exporting aircraft parts to North Korea. 

Chief executive Stephen Burrows said the new SuperPac XSTOL was originally designed decades ago as a topdressing plane. 

It can now fight the impact of climate change by controlling wildfires or plagues of locusts in Africa, rainmaking in drought-stricken areas and measuring greenhouse gas emissions. 

"It's faster and more fuel efficient and it climbs 41 percent better than other aircraft," Burrows said. 

The plane does not require a sealed runway and can take off in as little as 200m, and land on a wide variety of rugged terrains, including hillsides. 

"Places like Papua New Guinea, Australia, Nepal and Indonesia," said Burrows, who told Newshub there's keen interest already from governments and aid agencies. 

"The aircraft can be equipped with large wheels for landing on soft soils ideally suited for disaster relief when you are trying to provide aid or relief to areas that have suffered landslips or volcanic eruptions." 

A series of modular accessories allow it to be converted within minutes to disperse 2500 litres of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds in a rain-like pattern during wildfires, so as to avoid crushing trees. 
In other applications, governments will have the ability to release rainmaking silver iodide particles that promote rain in drought-stricken regions - which Kerr said "makes economic sense to do if they need rainmaking or cloud seeding" when they are not fighting fires. 

Newshub understands the Papua New Guinea Defence Force may be keen on at least one of the new Superpac XSTOL aircraft. 

"What that means for New Zealand is potential export earnings. The aircraft will sell for $5million each," said Burrows. "We have five in production now and we are looking to build 12 per year so that's a $60m input into the economy each year. 

"We have enquiries about firefighting for the purchase of up to 30 aircraft - which suggests there is significant interest from this market segment alone," he said. 

NZAero plans to increase their current staff numbers by 30 percent to 80 full-time employees by mid 2024.