Air New Zealand and Zephyr Airworks today announced they have signed an agreement to work collaboratively on bringing the world's first autonomous electric air taxi service to market in New Zealand.
Zephyr, bankrolled by Google co-founder Larry Page, is developing a self-flying small plane, dubbed the Cora, which is already being tested in Canterbury.
Although the aircraft is an estimated six years away from commercial launch, test flights are already taking place from a private airport near Christchurch and Science, Research and the Herald understands Innovation Minister Megan Woods made an under-the-radar visit to Zephyr in the week beginning October 1.
Zephyr Airworks chief executive Fred Reid has previously spoken about using the pilot-less Cora for automated tourist flights or short-haul flights.
The Cora could, for example, fly passengers from Auckland Airport to the city's CBD, thanks to its vertical takeoff and landing ability.
The prototype being tested in Canterbury can hold two passengers and travel 100km at up to 180km per hour on a charge. It has been under development since 2010.
The startup is on the hunt for multiple staff. Most of its open positions are for its Mountain View, California office, but it also has two positions open in Christchurch.
Asked this morning how Zephyr is tracking toward its target to launch the Cora within six years, country director Anna Kominik said, "We are working as fast as we are able towards certification and go-to-market. We are working with New Zealand regulators on our certification pathway and that is going well."
She added, "Testing is going well and we are pleased with the progress we are making. We have done more than 700 hours of testing across NZ and US test sites.
The company is not carrying passengers at this point in its testing.
"Cora uses self-flying software combined with expert human oversight and ultimately will make flying possible for people without training," Kominik said.
"Zephyr Airworks' innovative technology and commitment to New Zealand make them an ideal partner for advancing the future of travel in New Zealand," Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon said.
"Both companies see the potential for our airspace to free people from the constraints of traffic and its associated social, economic and environmental impacts."