Air New Zealand and NASA partner to collect climate data using Q300 aircraft

Air New Zealand and NASA have announced they're entering into a partnership to gather information on climate change and its impacts on the environment.

As part of the project, Air NZ will collect unique environmental data during its domestic flights around New Zealand.

Aotearoa's national airline is set to be the first passenger airline in the world to collaborate with NASA on such a mission.

One of Air NZ's Q300 aircraft will be fitted with next-generation satellite receivers later this year.

Using GPS signals reflected from the earth's surface, the receiver unit will act as a scientific "black box" during flights, gathering data with the aim of improving forecasting of severe storms, as well as enabling new climate change research in New Zealand. 

Air NZ's captain David Morgan says with flight paths across Aotearoa, the Q300 is the perfect aircraft for the mission. 

"Our Q300s cruise around 16,000 feet - much closer to the land and sea than NASA's satellites. Placing receivers on aircraft will enhance the resolution and quality of information, giving scientists an unprecedented view over our entire network, from Kerikeri to Invercargill," he said.

Morgan said the airline is already feeling the impact of climate change "with flights impacted by volatile weather and storms".

"Climate change is our biggest sustainability challenge so it's incredible we can use our daily operations to enable this world-leading science."

The University of Auckland will establish an operations centre to receive and process data collected inflight.  

The receivers are being developed by the University of Michigan for NASA's Earth Science Technology Office. 

Air NZ engineers will fit receivers to the first Q300 in late 2020 and if successful, the airline will look to introduce the technology more widely across the Q300 fleet.

Air NZ operates 23 of the 50-seat Q300 turboprop aircraft.