Air New Zealand and aircraft manufacturer Airbus have announced a joint initiative to research how hydrogen-powered aircraft could be part of the airline's fleet by 2030.
The hydrogen-powered engines will be developed for the airline's turboprop aircraft, which are used on its regional services in Aotearoa.
In a first for the Asia-Pacific region, Air NZ and Airbus have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate on a joint project researching zero-emission hydrogen aircraft in Aotearoa.
Under the agreement, Air NZ will analyse the impact hydrogen aircraft may have on its business, while Airbus will provide hydrogen aircraft support to help the airline develop its decarbonisation plan.
Speaking on Three's The AM Show on Thursday, Air NZ CEO Greg Foran said work has been underway at Air NZ on alternative fuel supplies for a long time.
"Of course once you start to commercialise these, you need to go through rigorous testing, and that's why we are not going to see this commercially operating probably until you get closer to 2030," Foran said.
"But it is real, we are excited about what we have pulled together with Airbus."
While hydrogen-powered aircraft will be tested on regional routes, Foran says the airline is looking to other processes for long-haul flying.
"The long-haul solution in terms of dealing with carbon emissions is most likely to be sustainable aviation fuel, so fuel that's created out of waste, ideally nothing to do with good food that could be used, but waste that is in our environment - that's the solution for long-haul flights," he said.
Airbus Asia-Pacific President Anand Stanley says the company chose to work with Air NZ because of its commitment to sustainability, its reputation for technical excellence and its alignment with the manufacturer's own decarbonisation goals.
"New Zealand has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in the adoption of zero emissions aircraft, given the country's commitment to renewable energy which can be used to generate green hydrogen and our highly connected regional air network," Stanley said.
"This agreement brings us a step closer to seeing low carbon solutions in place for our shorter domestic and regional flights in the next decade."
In October, regional airline Sounds Air announced plans to introduce three 19-seater electric aircraft to its fleet by 2026