Mission Next Generation Aircraft: Air New Zealand to launch zero-emissions flights in 2026

Air New Zealand took a step toward its goal of being the world's leader in sustainable air travel on Friday by announcing an accelerator programme in its zero-emission flights quest.

The airline put out a call in December for entrepreneurs, innovators and aircraft developers to help it hit net zero by 2050.

More than 30 aircraft developers responded, Air NZ said, and it is "in close negotiations" with some of those, expecting to sign letters of intent by the end of the year with the partners it chooses to work with.

On Friday Air NZ announced Mission Next Generation Aircraft, an accelerator programme with two primary goals:

  • To fly a first commercial demonstrator flight in 2026
  • To begin replacing its Q300 domestic fleet with a more sustainable aircraft - likely green hydrogen or battery hybrid systems - from 2030.

Aotearoa's renewable electricity sources and Air NZ's short-range domestic routes are said to make the country and airline "ideal" for zero-emission aircraft - but building one is nonetheless a huge task.

"We know these goals are ambitious, but ambition is exactly what is required to make this new technology a reality," said Air NZ CEO Greg Foran.

"We want to lead the rollout of zero-emission aircraft and will work alongside aircraft developers, innovators and infrastructure providers to give them the confidence they're developing a product that's a viable option for us.

"The next three years will be focused on supporting the building, testing and certifying of aircraft and associated infrastructure. By 2026, we're aiming to have our first zero-emissions aircraft - either cargo or passenger - take flight in New Zealand.

"The learnings we will take from flying an aircraft with next-generation propulsion technology from 2026 will pave the way for our long-term green hydrogen and hybrid partners to deliver an aircraft that can replace our Q300 domestic fleet. We're breaking new ground here - it's not just the aircraft that needs to be developed, but also the infrastructure and regulation required to fly commercially."

At an event announcing the accelerator programme to media on Friday, Associate Minister Transport Kieran McAnulty said he was "incredibly excited" by the progress Air NZ has made.

"I commend you and your team for taking this challenge on, for not waiting for others to take this up, for doing it yourselves and showing that actually, New Zealand is leading the world and that we will benefit from that," said McAnulty.

"It's not going to be easy. There's a lot of work to do. But the Government is keen to play its part and partner with you where we can."