Air New Zealand has today announced the ALIA as the airline’s first purchase of a next generation aircraft in its Mission Next Gen Aircraft programme.
Designed by electric aerospace company BETA Technologies, the battery-powered all-electric aircraft is expected to join Air NZ’s fleet in 2026.
The airline is buying the conventional take-off and landing version of the ALIA, rather than the vertical take-off and landing model the Vermont-based company has developed. The cost of BETA planes has been reported at $US4m (NZ$6.5m).
Air NZ will initially operate the aircraft as a cargo-only service in partnership with NZ Post, on a route selected through an expressions of interest (EOI) process with airports.
The airline has a firm order for one aircraft with options for an additional two, and rights for a further 20 aircraft.
The ALIA has flown over 480km in one flight in testing. Initial Air NZ flights will be about 150km.
The aircraft weighs three tonnes, is just over 12m long, and will fly at up to 270km/h.
A full charge of the battery is expected to take between 40 minutes to 60 minutes.
It will only be brought into service once it has passed testing and is certified as safe to fly by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The announcement follows an 18-month period of evaluation and diligence by Air NZ.
Through the airline’s Mission Next Gen Aircraft programme, it sought and received ideas and insights from 30 organisations, 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 programme.
Air NZ chief executive Greg Foran said the deal cements the airline’s commitment to flying lower-emissions aircraft in New Zealand.
“This is a small but important step in a much larger journey for the airline. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we are incredibly committed, and this purchase marks a new chapter for the airline.
‘‘Decarbonising 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.”
The aircraft would not replace its existing fleet, but was a catalyst for that change.
By flying the ALIA, the airline hoped to move to larger next generation aircraft on regional routes from 2030.
BETA founder and chief executive Kyle Clark says Air NZ is focused on bringing technologies to scale as quickly as possible, both to meet its own ambitions to decarbonise and to change the broader aviation landscape.
Clark has a degree in materials science engineering from Harvard and played professional ice hockey.
He founded the company in 2017 after a meeting with biotech company United Therapeutics, which manufactures organs for transplant.
“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,” he said.
A Harvard alumini report on Clark says BETA has already pre-sold units to cargo company UPS and the passenger helicopter company Blade has also pre-ordered units. BETA also has contracts with the US Army and Air Force.
Grant Bradley has been working at the Herald since 1993. He is the Business Herald’s deputy editor and covers aviation and tourism.